UNMASKING LADY HELEN
THE KINSEY FAMILY
Available in Print!
Regency Romance Series
Cover by Erin Dameron-Hill
Sometimes the biggest risk we take is with our hearts.
At twenty-four, Lady Helen Kinsey has her future carefully mapped out. A life of gentle quietude in the country caring for her unmarried brothers and walking with her dog. It does not include marriage, a dream she banished after her first Season. But when a handsome earl enters Kinsey House in London on a mission to find out why their footman was poisoned, she finds herself drawn into solving the mystery. And despite resistance on her part worthy of an army maneuver, she is irresistibly drawn to the earl himself.
After Whitehall receives a letter warning of a plot against the Crown, Jason, Captain Lord Peyton, is sent to investigate. Surely the famous explorer, Lord Lawrence Kinsey could not be behind it. He is engrossed in roaming ancient libraries and tombs in the East and bringing back their treasures for the museum. But after Peyton finds a fragment of a burned letter it appears that something dangerous lurks in Kinsey House, and Peyton becomes determined to keep the defenseless family safe, and one member particularly. Lady Helen has built a wall around herself and holds him at arm’s length. But arm’s length is not where Peyton wants to be.
As the mystery unfolds it becomes imperative for Peyton and Lady Helen to work together, very closely indeed.
A hot flush rushed up her neck and spread across her face at the idea of settling somewhere in here for the night with this large ex-army man who was quite possibly a spy.
The cloak of darkness had its advantages. Men easily succumbed to their desires with a little encouragement. The worst of them needed none. And here she was in her nightclothes. How on earth did she get herself into this?
“No candles. I brought a rush light.”
A tinder was struck, and a small glow lit up the room with a wisp of smoke. The Egyptian sarcophagus in the corner of the room took on a decidedly eerie appearance. Helen had considered hiding inside it but now shuddered at the prospect of entering that dark space where a mummy once rested.
“Where can we hide?” She distracted herself by gazing around the dimly lit room. “Behind the sofa?”
“We can both fit in the coffin,” Peyton observed in an exasperatingly calm tone.
“Don’t be ridiculous!” She fought to keep her voice from rising to a hysterical pitch. “I am not getting in there with you.”
“We’ll leave the door open a crack.”
“That isn’t the problem.”
In the faint light of the rush, his shadowed face loomed close to hers. “What is it then?”
“We would be…” She was unexpectedly lost for words.
“As close as birds in a roost? You have nothing to fear from me. I am not about to take advantage of the situation. I promise to keep my hands to myself.”
“That isn’t what I meant.” Her cheeks were now so hot she might be sitting by the fire.
“What then?” He’d taken to roaming about the room and no longer seemed intent on her answer.
“It doesn’t matter,” she mumbled, realizing it was futile. They would never see eye to eye. She bent over the sofa to check the space behind it. “I can fit in here.”
“These artifacts look quite atmospheric in this gloomy light,” he murmured, right behind her. He peered into the dark space. “You could squeeze in there.” His shoulder nudged hers. “But I cannot, and we need to be together so that we may confer.”
“Act together. As a force.”
“This is not the army. We are not at war.”
“We are in a way. We are fighting for justice, and this foe is a murderer,” he said, sounding ruthless and quite unlike himself.
She shuddered again.
“Come and look inside.” He swung the door of the sarcophagus open, and the smell of antiquity flowed out. “It’s roomier than you think.”
She swallowed. “I’m not…” she began. A scratching noise came from somewhere near the library door.
In the blink of an eye, Peyton had extinguished the rush light with his fingers and pulled her into the stone coffin, easing the door partly closed.
She took a deep breath of dusty stale air and something ancient, and indefinable, and clamped her mouth shut on a scream.
They waited, she hardly daring to breathe.
“Must have been mice behind the wainscoting,” he finally whispered, making no attempt to leave. “But now that we’re in here—”
Peyton appeared a good deal too pleased to be here. “It’s too cramped.” Aware of his spicy cologne and the touch of his leg against her bottom, Helen fought to remain calm. A hand alighted briefly on her side a whisker from her breast. She swallowed on a moan. The tension was excruciating.
Peyton cleared his throat. “Will you permit me to place my hands on your waist to support you? Otherwise, you might grow tired.” His breathing sounded strained. He must find the air as stuffy as she did.
With her pulse galloping, Helen was tired already. This had been a ridiculous, fruitless exercise, and she had only herself to blame for it. “If you must.”
She regretted it immediately. His hands seemed to burn into her flesh through her dressing gown. “Perhaps we might talk? If we keep our voices low, we can hear the door.”
“Good idea,” he said, his breath on her ear. “You have beautiful hair, Helen. It’s very long and silky.”
Helen launched into a rambling conversation. “I remember meeting your sister, Lady Greywood, years ago. She’s very pretty and has a pleasant nature, as I recall.” Not one of the spiteful debutantes Helen had encountered who had made her life hell. Elizabeth had Peyton’s coloring. Dark hair and green eyes. “I was very sorry to hear of her loss.”
“Thank you. Lizzie has only recently returned to society. I was very pleased to see it, but now, she’s met someone.”
He sounded worried. She wanted to turn and read his expression, which was foolish for they’d be pressed embarrassingly close together. “You don’t like him?”
“I wish I could say I did.” He sighed. “But Lizzie is keen to marry him and go to live in Italy.”
She wanted to know more but could hardly ask. Was the fact that Elizabeth would leave England trouble him most?
“I can quite see why you’d be uneasy about it,” she said. “You have a younger brother too, Viscount Brinkley.”
“Charlie was recently sent down from Oxford for some prank. Fortunately, they’ve reinstated him. He’s formed an unsuitable attachment to a Miss Groton, which has no future. I’m keen to see him finish his education and take the tour.”
“Did you take the tour, or did the war intervene?”
“I took it.” He chuckled.
“What amuses you?”
“The little I learned. But it is good for a young man to widen his horizons.”
“You have no need to explain,” she said hastily, guessing what he referred to.
His hands tightened at her waist. “I wasn’t about to. I haven’t forgotten I’m here with a lady.” His voice dropped a notch, as if he found that difficult, which silenced her.
Almost an hour passed. Helen’s legs began to grow tired, and she shuffled around in the small space allotted to her, careful not to tread on his big feet.
“We can’t stand up all night,” Peyton said, and for once, she had to agree with him. Although she doubted his solution to the problem would suit her.
“I’m perfectly all right,” she said, fearing what he might suggest next.
There’s room to sit if you’ll perch on my lap.”
“Are you always so frivolous?”
“Needs must. And perfectly aboveboard. To adopt a Naval term.”
“You were never in the Navy.”
“Here, I’ll show you,” he said with a soft chuckle. He sank down, pulling her with him onto his lap.
Before she could protest, he settled her across his knees, his hand touching parts of her that were just short of scandalous. She was sure he meant to do it. “There now, isn’t that better? It’s good that you’re not wearing your corset. You can be comfortable. Lean back against me and close your eyes. If anything happens I’ll wake you.”
“Oh!” How dare he mention the absence of her undergarments! Finding herself seated on muscular thighs and enveloped in strong masculine arms, Helen lost her ability to think of a suitable retort. Sleep? Was the man mad?
“I think we were mistaken. They’re not coming.” She struggled to rise without making matters worse. In the confined space, it proved impossible, and her elbow poked him in what she suspected with horror was a vital spot.
He groaned and tensed against her.
“Oh. I’m sorry, was that you…”
“It was.” His voice sounded strained.
Beginning to feel quite giddy, she suffered a fit of the giggles. It must have been the stuffy interior, the masculine smell of him, or the fear that, if she remained here, she’d soon succumb to his charm.
“I’m glad you find it amusing. But please don’t do that again.” He moved carefully as if in discomfort, but there was laughter in his voice. “Keep still and be quiet.”
She was in danger, but not from a foe, her own weakness. She liked being close to him far too much. How easy it would be to lean back against his strong chest and let nature take its course. She tensed with alarm at the direction her thoughts were taking. “I think I should leave,” she whispered.
“An excellent idea. If you promise to go straight up to bed.”
“Will you go home?”
“No. I’ll stay awhile.”
His hands vanished from where they’d rested on her diaphragm. “You know, you’re a very comfy armful, Lady Helen, if I might be so bold.”
“I think you’ve been quite bold enough.” She knew she sounded halfhearted. She could feel his chest shaking. He was laughing!
“I’m glad you find this amusing.”
“As do you,” he said with a chuckle.
“Perhaps a little,” she agreed, a quiver in her voice betraying her. “This has all been very silly. A terrible idea of yours.”
“I believe it was yours,” Peyton said.
“I intended to spend the night behind the sofa, you will remember.”
“As if I’d allow you to do a foolish thing like that.”
“You would have no say in it, sir.”
“No? You’re in here with me, though, aren’t you? Perhaps you prefer my company to the sofa’s?”
She huffed. “You are not making sense. It must be the lack of fresh air.” She began to wriggle forward. Once freed, she was sure she would think more clearly.
Peyton’s hands slid farther around to enclose her diaphragm, halting her progress. “You know, Lady Helen, you and I would make a good team.”
“Of detectives?” She paused, immediately caught by the suggestion.
“No, a woman could never be involved in dangerous work. A partnership certainly.”
She stiffened. “I believe a woman would bring much to detective work. They have assets men lack.”
“That’s true, quite appealing endowments, and often a very shrewd mind, but I had a different partnership in mind.”
“Really? I can’t imagine…”
“Marriage,” Peyton said firmly. “But I refuse to propose to you in this deuced coffin.”
A fluttery, empty feeling settled in her stomach. She fought to sound brisk. “Don’t be absurd. You really do need some fresh—”
A loud click made them freeze.