This week’s guest is historical romance author Alanna Lucas, who deliciously brings the past to life one romantic adventure at a time. She’s sharing a tantalizing peek into her new release, Only a Hero Will Do. She also has a giveaway opportunity for her fans!
Defender of the realm…and his wary heart…
Captain Grant Alexander is an enigma in London society. Dashing and handsome, he coldly eschews marriage. But the ton knows nothing of his role in the Legion: to bring Typhon, the traitor who seeks to destroy the British monarchy, to justice.
When Grant is thrown together with fellow Legion member Elizabeth Atwell, he’s instantly beguiled yet exasperated by this beautiful viscount’s daughter. She has little interest in combing the marriage mart for a well-bred, well-heeled husband, but is adept at code-breaking and handling a bow and arrow. She also refuses to do as she is told, insisting she accompany Grant on his mission.
As Typhon continues to evade capture and dark forces are at work, Grant realizes he must act, not only to protect the realm but Elizabeth too…not to mention his heart, which is in danger of thawing every time she comes close…
Elizabeth strolled into the stuffy, overly perfumed, and crowded ballroom. Some of the finest families of the ton were in attendance this evening. She pretended she had not a care in the world, but all the while took note of those around her.
Within the mass of well-dressed lords and ladies, Lord Fynes caught her eye, offering a slight nod toward the less crowded terrace. This was the signal she’d been waiting for all night.
Promenading the perimeter of the dance floor and heading toward the terrace, Elizabeth feigned interest in the quadrille, but continued to glance sideways at the portly Lord Baxter, the man she was to keep an eye on this evening.
Elizabeth had been given the tasks of attending social functions where Lord Baxter was present and taking note of whom he interacted with, and any other odd behavior. If it weren’t for Lord Fynes’ cryptic note about a stolen missive needing to be deciphered posthaste, and Lord Baxter’s sudden decision to attend Lady Caper’s ball this evening, she’d still be at home pretending to be ill. But these new developments took precedence over avoiding social obligations.
Elizabeth’s mother, however, was thrilled with the last minute alteration to the evening’s plans, promising Elizabeth would have a splendid time and declaring that, by the end of this season, her daughter was sure to have an offer of marriage. There was only one problem with her mother’s theory; Elizabeth had no interest in marriage. Truth be told, she had never been a starry-eyed debutante setting her cap at handsome men. Not that she wasn’t interested in the opposite sex. She just did not want to give up the life she’d worked so hard to build. She wanted to serve her country and help bring down Typhon, the Legion’s mysterious and deadly enemy.
Despite the Legion’s efforts to apprehend Typhon over the past several years, he’d continually managed to evade capture. After the last informant had turned up dead, all traces of Typhon and his miscreants had vanished, until last month when the Legion had received word from the Earl of Hartland stating he had uncovered information regarding influential members of the ton who were sympathetic to Typhon’s anti-British cause. Lord Baxter’s name was at the top of the list.
Lord Fynes’ exuberant voice rose above the chatter, breaking into Elizabeth’s reflections. “Miss Atwell, what an unexpected surprise it is to find you here this evening. I do hope your family is well. Is Lord Atwell in attendance?”
She flicked her fan open. “My father is not in attendance, but is well, thank you, Lord Fynes.” Glancing over her shoulder, she noticed Lord Baxter heading their way. The continual mopping of his brow, combined with his anxious expression and jittery movements, added to Elizabeth’s suspicions. She didn’t know if Lord Baxter suspected anything, but there was no time to contemplate the possibility. Lowering her voice, she spoke between waves of her fan. “What news?”
“Standard assignment to be delivered by Cap…” Lord Fynes halted his sentence before pasting a wide smile on his face, and in a boisterous voice exclaimed, “Lord Baxter! I was hoping we’d meet again this evening and continue our engaging discussion about the benefits of sea air on one’s constitution.”
Lord Baxter’s face paled as little beads of sweat outlined the corners of his brow. “Oh yes, of course, sea air… one’s constitution… perhaps later.” He gulped the words down with force. Pulling out a white cloth from the edge of his coat, he wiped his brow with much force. “Quite warm this evening,” was all the man could mutter before waddling away. It was difficult to believe the always-discomposed Lord Baxter could be involved in anything nefarious. Elizabeth suspected the man’s immense wealth had attracted Typhon’s attention.
Masking her thoughts, Elizabeth resumed the role of guest at Lady Caper’s ball. “I had best be returning to my chaperone. It was a pleasure to see you this evening, Lord Fynes.”
“Give your father my regards.” Bowing slightly, Lord Fynes uttered under his breath, “Captain Alexander…tonight.” Without further adieu, he took his leave, disappearing imperceptibly into the festive crowd.
Although she’d been deciphering messages for Lord Fynes since she was an adolescent, Elizabeth had only recently joined the ranks of the Legion, a secret organization created to destroy anything or anyone that might compromise the security of the realm. Thankfully her father had not objected, and her mother had no knowledge of her surreptitious activities.
The daughter of a viscount simply did not risk life and limb. No, the daughter of a viscount was expected to marry well, provide heirs, and know the latest on dits. The daughter of a viscount was expected to behave herself, do what she was told, and not be in possession of a weapon of any sort. Elizabeth had absolutely no interest in being that daughter.
She forced her best smile and prepared to wait. Patience was not her strong suit. Scanning the room, she looked for the man she’d heard so much about but had yet to meet. She’d been following his impressive military career for several years and was anxious to make his acquaintance.
When Typhon had struck again a few weeks ago, Elizabeth was not surprised to learn Captain Alexander had been appointed to discover the identity of the man who had been slowly undermining British authority and weakening general confidence. Typhon’s ultimate goal was to destroy the crown. His ever-expanding organization knew no boundaries, and it was the Legion’s responsibility to bring him to justice. Elizabeth had no doubt Captain Alexander would be the man to accomplish such a feat, and she wanted nothing more than to be part of that team.
Anxious energy coursed through her limbs. If she stood still much longer, she might scream. Across the room, she spotted her chaperone, Lady Carteron—her recently married and dearest friend, Amelia— and decided to join her.
Elizabeth thought it quite ridiculous that, at the age of six and twenty, she still needed a chaperone. She did not quite understand how her younger friend provided any additional protection because of her recent change in marital status. Her mother and father, however, did not share her sentiment.
Girlish giggles followed by excited hushed whispers drifted over from a group of young ladies. The room quieted as all heads turned toward the entrance and the mysterious newcomer. It seemed as if every lady in attendance had noticed his arrival and were prepared to throw herself in his path.
He had the stature of a military man, proud and confident but not arrogant, and stood at least a head above most of the men in attendance. There was an air of danger and mystery about him that Elizabeth found intriguing. Could this be Captain Alexander?
Elizabeth strolled over to Amelia, but kept her eyes settled on the handsome gentleman in a dark blue coat. “Who is the impressively tall man?”
His gaze swept through the ballroom, resting on Elizabeth. Rapid flutters pattered against her chest as her eyes locked with the mysterious newcomer, catching her off guard. She quickly turned her gaze as if looking for someone.
Amelia leaned in and whispered, “That is Captain Alexander. He’s recently returned from Glanmire House.”
Oh dear. Elizabeth had heard he was handsome, but he was a veritable Adonis!
“And standing next to him is Sir Simon,” Amelia added.
Oh, so that is Sir Simon. Elizabeth had heard the numerous tales about his bravery, and his reputation with the ladies. She tried to suppress a giggle. Sir Simon’s renown was second only to the Earl of Hartland’s. She had no interest or time for rakes and scoundrels.
“They’ve been the best of friends since childhood.”
Amelia always seemed to know everything about everyone. Calling her a gossip would have been a gross understatement. Except for the one not-so-minor flaw, Amelia would have made an excellent agent. However, she was instead a loyal friend who, without a doubt, would never betray Elizabeth’s trust. Even still, Elizabeth had always acted with extreme caution regarding her other life. Few knew the truth of her association with the Legion, and she meant to keep it that way.
She happened another glance at Captain Alexander, who was now engaged in conversation with Lord Capers. His stoic features gave nothing away. She suspected that beneath the rigid and all too handsome façade was intelligence and compassion. There was just something about his aura that told her he was a good man. A good man and an excellent spy.
“What do you know of Captain Alexander?” Elizabeth questioned without thought, wanting to know more than just of his military career. Not that she had any interest in the Captain beyond the professional, but she’d often found a person’s past influenced their present course.
Take herself, for example. Elizabeth had always been told she would never be able to fire a pistol, or hit a target with an arrow, or have a place in a man’s world. But the moment her late grandfather had revealed his secret, she’d instantly known the path her life would take. She was going to prove every naysayer wrong.
Amelia took in a deep breath and began to rattle off the facts. “He was a sickly child, often bedridden. Both his parents died when he was still fairly young and has no other living relatives. He has served in the military, but no one knows much about his service apart from his strong sense of honor and duty. He has traveled extensively and speaks multiple languages. Rumor has it that his late grandfather had amassed quite a fortune in trade and acquired Brookhurst, a lovely property near the Peak District. He’s not married.” Elizabeth eyed her friend, about to ask if that was all the information Amelia had on Captain Alexander when she added, “Oh, and he’s thirty years old and has managed to keep all romantic entanglements out of the gossips’ ears. Other than that, his life is shrouded in mystery.”
“Yes, shrouded in mystery.” Somehow Elizabeth was able to hold in the laughter. Apart from extremely personal details, Amelia had covered all the basics.
How would she approach him without raising suspicion? Did Captain Alexander know who she was? Perhaps he already applied to the master of ceremonies for an introduction.
She was contemplating her next course of action when Mr. Cokinbred, one of many fortune hunters in attendance, sauntered to where her and Amelia were standing.
“Lady Carteron,” Mr. Cokinbred said in a polite, if not slightly condescending tone, before turning his attention to Elizabeth. “Miss Atwell, it is a pleasure to see you this evening.” His smile widened revealing a set of ill-maintained teeth. “May I have the pleasure of the next dance?”
Propriety dictated she accept, but conformity was not a common word in Elizabeth’s vocabulary. “I thank you for the offer, but I am rather tired at present.”
Mr. Cokinbred’s face turned to an unflattering shade of red. Under his breath he muttered, “Good evening,” before storming away, clearly displeased with Elizabeth’s refusal.
Amelia leaned in and, with a teasing whisper, said, “Your mother will be none too pleased when she hears of your refusal to dance.”
Ignoring Amelia’s comment, Elizabeth shifted her attention back to the dance floor. The orchestra was in place and guests were lining up for the next set. Sir Simon had already secured his dance partner. She noticed Captain Alexander standing alone off to one side, surveying his surroundings. Despite the lack of gentlemen in attendance, he had yet to ask a lady to dance. Perhaps he was not as much of a gentleman as she’d first thought him to be.
A group of colorful young debutantes paraded in front of Elizabeth, obstructing her view of Captain Alexander. How was she to catch his eye if she couldn’t even see him? By the time the young ladies flitted past, he was nowhere to be seen.
She flicked open her fan for the second time in a span of fifteen minutes and began fanning herself fervently. It was becoming quite the undesirable habit.
“Are you alright, Elizabeth dear?”
Elizabeth clutched her chest with her other hand and let out a long sigh. “It is rather warm this evening. I fear I may be taking ill.”
Amelia raised a single delicate brow, her eyes narrowing with a dubious look. They’d been friends a long time and Amelia instantly knew when Elizabeth was up to something. “I find it rather pleasant this evening,” she teased.
Keeping with her charade for those who might overhear, Elizabeth continued to fan herself. “I believe I just need a moment’s reprieve. Do you happen to know the way to the ladies’ retiring room?”
“Down the hall.” Amelia pointed before adding in a hushed tone, “The same direction in which Captain Alexander disappeared a short time ago.”
Elizabeth snapped her fan closed. “I don’t know why I even bother.”
“Because I am your dearest friend and want to help.” Although Amelia did not know the specifics of Elizabeth’s involvement, she had always suspected it had something to do with the government. On numerous occasions she had tried to weasel it out of Elizabeth, all in good fun of course, but Elizabeth had never conceded. Amelia had promised on pain of torture and death never to reveal what she suspected. And she had never given Elizabeth cause to doubt that promise.
Elizabeth smiled. “Thank you. I won’t be long.”
Edging along the perimeter of the crowd, Elizabeth trudged toward the ladies’ retiring room under the charade of illness. When she reached the hall, she resumed her normal pace.
Elegantly dressed ladies paraded up and down, ready to resume their husband- hunting antics, their giggles echoing off the gilded mirrors and fluted columns.
Even before she saw him, she felt his larger than life presence. Captain Alexander.
She strolled around a column, pretending to admire a rather grotesque orange, green, and gold floral vase. Captain Alexander was leaning against the wall, partially hidden from view by another column and a decorative pedestal. Her earlier assessment of him did not do him justice. He was like a Greek god, but more handsome and far less arrogant.
“Have you noticed that Mr. Devlin’s bays are mismatched?” His soft deep voice sent a tingle all the way down to her toes, catching her off guard for a moment.
What was wrong with her? Despite the many attempts by the ton’s most handsome rakes and scoundrels, she’d never been this distracted by anyone before.
Breathing in deeply to steady her nerves, she swallowed the hard lump in her throat. Neither attempt was of any use. Ignoring the intense fluttering in her heart, she replied in code, “Yes, I believe he acquired them in Dublin.”
Captain Alexander surveyed both directions before nodding toward a partially opened door. Elizabeth glanced behind to ensure no one was watching and then followed him into the dark drawing room.
It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to her surroundings. Slowly, a couple of sofas flanking a large table came into focus.
Captain Alexander came up besides her, turned and faced the door. The aroma of fresh soap and leather encircled Elizabeth, infiltrating her senses. They were common enough scents, but on him were intoxicating and far too intriguing.
“It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Miss Atwell.” His words were a mere whisper. “And quite an honor that you side-stepped Mr. Cokinbred and left your chaperone to meet with me.” The teasing tone in his voice made her insides tingle. For the first time in her life she understood why her sisters all swooned at the sight of a handsome man.
“I do not care for the rules of the ton, especially when they are far inferior to protecting and safeguarding our country. I believe you share this sentiment, Captain Alexander?”
A slight laugh escaped his lips. “Yes, I would assume Lady Carteron informed you of who I was and told you my entire life story?”
“Only the highlights.” Elizabeth confessed with a nervous giggle. Focus on the task at hand. “I understand you have something for me?”
Captain Alexander took her gloved hand and slipped a folded piece of paper into her palm, then closed her fingers over the small missive. The motion seemed intimate, inappropriate, and all too enticing. A strange inner excitement coursed through her veins.
“Guard this well. Lord Fynes will be calling on your father first thing in the morning.”
Captain Alexander did not wait for her response, but disappeared further into the darkness of the drawing room. A cool breeze and another hint of fresh soap and leather drifted through the space, followed by the soft click of a door closing.
Elizabeth took the folded letter and smoothed it across her chest, tucking it into her dress and nestling it on the outer curve of her breast. The intense beating of her heart was a steady staccato against her hand. She sighed deeply, letting her head fall back against the wall.
“Elizabeth,” a soft voice questioned from the hall.
At least she wouldn’t have to pretend to be flustered. Captain Alexander had aided her sufficiently with that unwanted response.
She edged off the wall, smoothed her hand across her chest, ensuring the missive was securely hidden, and then strolled toward the doorway. “In here, Amelia.”
Before Elizabeth reached the door Amelia pushed it open, allowing candlelight from the hall to filter into the drawing room, casting eerie distorted shadows across the walls. “What are you doing in here?” She glanced about as if expecting to find someone.
“I just needed a quiet moment.” After her brief encounter with Captain Alexander, that was the truth.
“You are missing all the dancing. I promised Lady Atwell I would not let you be a wallflower this evening. You already turned away Mr. Cokinbred. If you don’t make an effort, your mother will not ask me to chaperone again, and then where will you be?”
Elizabeth had never been a wallflower in her entire life. Her decision not to be social had nothing to do with shyness, but an intense unwillingness to abide by the ton’s rules. But Amelia was right. She had to make an effort, or else risk having her mother at her side at each and every future event of the season until she was married off. A fierce shudder replaced the delightful tingling she’d felt only a moment ago.
She sucked in her breath and forced her best I’m-enjoying-the-evening smile. She might look the part of a viscount’s daughter, but inside beat the heart of a spy.
Grant was relieved to be back in the quiet of his room. He found social functions more draining than marching in the rain through ankle-deep mud. Sighing deeply, he enjoyed the silence that afforded him time alone with his thoughts. The evening had not turned out as expected.
When he’d informed Lord Fynes about the missive he’d recovered and whom he believed had written it, he’d expected his superior to handle it himself. But when Grant received orders that he was to deliver the coded missive to Miss Atwell, he’d expected an old spinster who dabbled in amateur mysteries. However, instead of an elderly woman on the cusp of death, a lady who could bring any man in a room to his knees had greeted him. Not just greeted him, but enticed him in a way no other female had before.
Sinking into the warm comfort of the leather chair, Grant’s thoughts strayed to Miss Atwell. She had turned down a dance and left her chaperone’s side, all to accept a missive? Her large brown eyes held an intelligence far beyond her youthful years, and then there was her luxurious brown hair that glistened beneath the candlelight, not to mention her voice…her voice was pure heaven. She was the type of woman dreams were made of— entirely perfect, but far out of Grant’s reach. Miss Atwell was the daughter of a viscount, lest he forget that not so minor detail.
How was it even possible the daughter of a viscount was the Legion’s top decoder? And why hadn’t he known about her previously?
From Lord Fynes he had learned she was able to decipher codes faster than any man, and also had a knack for puzzles. It was a talent that made her highly valuable to the organization in this game where time was of the essence.
When he’d pressed Lord Fynes for further details about Miss Atwell’s background and qualifications, he’d been warned that the information was classified. Although Grant understood the need for discretion, he detested all the secrecy. It made it difficult for him to do his job and protect his team when he didn’t have all the facts.
He swirled the brandy in his glass, watching the liquid slowly ripple to a gentle stop. Lifting the glass to his lips, he inhaled the fragrant aroma before taking a long, slow sip. The fiery liquid burned as it traveled down his throat and settled into his gut. Why would a lady born to privilege want to do such work?
Grant suspected he could drink all night and still not be rid of the image of the beautiful and intelligent Miss Atwell. He was far too intrigued by her, and not just in the physical sense.
Alanna is giving away a $20 Amazon Gift Card in celebration of her new release. Click the gift card below to enter!
Alanna Lucas grew up in Southern California, but always dreamed of distant lands and bygone eras. From an early age she took interest in art, history, and travel, and enjoys incorporating those diversions into her writing.
Alanna makes her home in California where she spends her time writing historical romances, dreaming of her next travel destination, and spending time with family.