A knife-fight in the Dials. Plucking a nob’s purse with a constable underfoot. Scaling a London rooftop.
Want me to go on, do you? Because I can go on and on with the list goes of things I’d rather do than live with the fancy nobs in Mayfair. Yet, that is precisely where I, Cleopatra Killoran find myself.
Nor is this just any fancy family I’m living with—this is the Black family, hated enemies. Our feud goes back to the streets of St. Giles when we were all poorer, powerless, and scraping to survive. Oh, don’t go thinking the Killorans want for anything—not now. Not any longer. We’ve built The Devil’s Den the most prosperous gaming hell that’s lined our pockets and kept us safe. But for my brother, Broderick—it’s not enough. It’s never enough. It’s why he’s determined to marry one of his sisters: me, Ophelia, or Gertrude, off to some toff.
And though I’d sooner split my side open than concede a point to Broderick or anyone—I not only see my brother’s fear, but I understand it. After living amongst the rats with an empty belly and a hard floor a person’s only mattress, that fear is with you. It’s always with you and keeps you on edge...if you’re clever. Terror that everything one’s built will be taken away and one will find oneself back in those hated streets, cloying to survive once more. Yes, Broderick was sending one of us and I’ll be damned if he sacrifices Gertrude or Ophelia. I’m the protector. The one who’ll keep them safe. And so I went.
I was prepared for everything I’d face.
Or I thought I was.
What I didn’t anticipate was Adair Thorne. Black’s brother of the streets. I see the way he watches me. Carefully. With suspicion. Anger. He no more wants me here than I wanted to come. It was clear from the moment I entered the house, and he made the mistake of trying to take my dagger from me. And yet, there’s something else, there, too in his eyes, every time he touches his gaze on me--desire. And god help me, I feel it, too.
Excerpt from The Hellion
At last they reached the far recesses of the townhouse: one of the last doors in the long hallway. Thorne shot a hand out, and Cleopatra stiffened. He merely pressed the handle. She hesitated. It would be unwise for Thorne to inflict harm upon her. That act would result in an all-out war of the streets. Nonetheless, she bore the scar upon her hand from having entered a room with far less caution than she should. Cleopatra ducked her head inside.
Sunlight streamed through the windows, bathing the spacious, pale-pink chambers in a soft light. Pink. She curled her hands into tight, reflexive balls as a memory whispered forward. Cleopatra as she’d been prowling the streets of London, in search of unsuspecting lords, and seeing a fancy toff alongside a small girl in pink ruffles. The two had laughed and spoken with such a tenderness that, from that point forward, Cleopatra had come to abhor that soft shade of innocence because it reminded her of what she’d truly gone without—a loving parent.
“Not to your liking, Cleopatra?”She started, grateful to Adair for pulling her back from the humiliating melancholy that struck. It was the first time he’d laid claim to her given name. Hearing him wrap it in his low baritone roused … something peculiar inside. A damned, unwanted fluttering that didn’t have anything todo with hatred or danger, and all the more unnerving for it. She forced herself to look back at him. “That’ll be all,” Cleopatra said, dismissing him like a servant.
Splotches of color suffused his cheeks.It was entirely too easy getting under this one’s skin. And for the first time in the whole of that miserable day, she felt the stirrings of amusement.“Turn around,” he said gruffly.“Wha—” Cleopatra gasped as he laid his hands to her waist. Her valise tumbled from her fingers, and God help her, the weight of his powerful hand upon her person brought her eyes briefly closed. She fought to draw in a steady breath, but it emerged ragged.“Wh-what are you doing?” She managed to complete her earlier question, reaching belatedly for her weapon.Adair gripped her two hands in a firm hold that also had a shocking gentleness to it. He lowered his lips close to her ear; the hint of coffee and cheroots stirred the sensitive skin of her nape. “Surely you don’t think we’ll not search you,” he muttered, wholly unaffected, as he patted her through her gown.She tried to squeeze out an inventive curse—and came up empty.Through the fabric of her satin skirts, the heat of his bold touch continued to burn her, holding her immobile. It had been almost ten years since a man had dared to touch her … in any way. That man had lost two fingers for that affront by Cleopatra’s hand herself. Adair’s touch, however, was nothing like that grasping, clumsy one of a toff trying to take a girl against an alleyway. His hand lingered on her belly, and her mouth went dry. In a bid for both nonchalance and control, she peeled her lip back in a sneer. “What good would a weapon tucked inside my gown do me?”Ignoring her, he dropped to a knee and tugged her skirts up. The slap of cool air on her exposed legs effectively doused whatever maddening pull his touch had inflicted on her senses. “Bastard,” she hissed, shooting her boot out.With his unencumbered hand, he caught her ankle. “No armed Killoran will sleep under our roof.” In quick order, he divested her of the sapphire-studded dagger and tossed it at the opposite side of the wall.She silently screamed at the loss of that weapon and struggled against his hold. “Give me my damned knife,” she railed, yanking her foot left and right. Propelling her body sideways, she made a futile grab for the blade. Adair tightened his hold and glanced over to the weapon they battled for. His gaze lingered on that piece she’d retained of Diggory’s. “Don’t even think of it ya lousy bugger,” she seethed. It was the only material item of any value to her.When he’d joined Diggory’s gang, Broderick had convinced that hated leader of uniform blades to mark their connection. However, with the Celtic symbol of inner strength formed with the gems upon it, the blade was a reminder of her strength and ability to survive in the face of ugliness and evil. She’d be damned if Adair Thorne or any other claimed it for their own. She opened her mouth to bring his ears down but registered his stillness.A flash of hatred flared in Adair’s green eyes. Did he recognize the blade for what it was? Then, how many who’d crossed unfortunate paths with Mac Diggory or his men had had a similar weapon touched to their throat at one time or another? Or in Cleopatra’s case, countless ones.Taking advantage of Adair’s distraction, she shot her boot out and caught him between the legs.The air left him on a swift exhale, and he immediately freed her to clutch at himself. Cleopatra dealt him another kick to his lower belly. She gasped as her toes collided with a hard wall of muscle better suited to a stone statue than a man. Nonetheless, her efforts had the intended effect, and another sharp breath left him. Cleopatra sprang into action and lunged for her dagger. She cried out as that firm, unyielding grip collected her ankle once more, upending her.Cleopatra pitched forward. She put her palms out to catch herself. Adair swiftly brought her atop him, breaking her fall.“Hellion,” he whispered, rolling her under him.Their chests moved in like rhythm as her panting gasps for air blended with his noisy inhalations. The heat and power of him doused her logic and drove back her fear. Unbidden, her gaze went to his lips. Only one man had managed to place his lips this close to her own. She’d been a girl and he’d been a blighter who’d liked to bugger children. At Broderick’s hand, that bastard had paid the price with his life. Yet, the hint of cheroots and coffee lingering on Adair Thorne’s breath was so very different. Intoxicating. His gaze lingered on her mouth. Did she imagine the way his throat worked? “Do not ever put your hands on me, hellion,” he whispered, and that slight movement nearly brought their lips into contact.Her heart thudded as he slid a hand about her, cupping her at the nape. He’s going to kiss me. He’s going to kiss me, and I want it…
About the Book
Title: The Hellion
Author: Christi Caldwell
Genre: Historical Romance
Series: Wicked Wallflowers, Book #1
Adair Thorne has just watched his gaming-hell dream disappear into a blaze of fire and ash, and he’s certain that his competitors, the Killorans, are behind it. His fury and passion burn even hotter when he meets Cleopatra Killoran, a tart-mouthed vixen who mocks him at every turn. If she were anyone else but the enemy, she’d ignite a desire in him that would be impossible to control.No one can make Cleopatra do anything. That said, she’ll do whatever it takes to protect her siblings―even if that means being sponsored by their rivals for a season in order to land a noble husband. But she will not allow her head to be turned by the infuriating and darkly handsome Adair Thorne. There’s only one thing that threatens the rules of the game: Cleopatra’s secret. It could unravel the families’ tenuous truce and shatter the unpredictably sinful romance mounting between the hellion…and a scoundrel who could pass for the devil himself.
USA Today bestselling author Christi Caldwell blames Julie Garwood and Judith McNaught for luring her into the world of historical romance. While sitting in her graduate school apartment at the University of Connecticut, Christi decided to set aside her class notes and try her hand at tales of love. She believes even the most perfect heroes and heroines have imperfections, and she rather enjoys torturing them before giving them a well-deserved happily ever after. Christi makes her home in southern Connecticut, where she spends her time writing, chasing after her feisty young son, and caring for her twin princesses-in-training. For the latest information about Christi’s releases, future books, and free bonus material, visit www.christicaldwell.com and sign up for her newsletter.
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