Maxwell Berisford, Earl of Eydris, is not the villain everyone thinks he is. He does lie, steal, and kill to get what he wants, but it has always been in service to the Crown. The only person who knows of his involvement in matters of state is his rival, the French operative Elorie Lavoie. For years, she has been a thorn in Max’s side, taking pleasure in thwarting his missions at every opportunity. She also happens to be the one woman he’d give anything to have, but is forever off-limits to him.
Elorie Lavoie has made a name for herself in the business of international espionage to escape the life everyone expects of her. Yet when Max pushes their rivalry into dangerous areas with a melting kiss, her hunt for the famous artifact they both seek becomes an exploration of her enemy instead. The roguish English Earl might become the adventure she’s always craved, yet the secrets between them could bring nations to their knees. Resisting treason has never been such a deliciously failed endeavor…
Elorie squinted into the cold sun and shivered as the wind whipped through her frame. On one side was the endless Scottish countryside, its purple and green landscape rolling out like a velvet cape. But Elorie looked toward the other horizon in which the vast expanse of the ocean met the coast with a tumult of white-capped waves against the sharp rocks below.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” a low voice said behind her.
Elorie gasped and turned to find Max leaning against the opposite wall across from her. His arms were crossed, and a little smile played at his lips, as relaxed as any lord smoking a cheroot at White’s.
“Don’t worry,” he assured her. “I have no intention of crossing swords with you today, Viper. But I can’t resist pointing out that I’ve gotten the better of you twice now. Are you starting to warm up to me then, my lovely serpent?”
Ellie narrowed her eyes at him and adopted a similar pose. Her heart was racing, and not just from exertion or fear. “As warm as the wind in your ridiculous-looking hair, English cur.”
He frowned and reached up. “What’s wrong with—?” His hand returned to the crook of his other elbow. “You know, it doesn’t matter. What matters is we seem to be bumping into each other more than is prudent, given the nature of what we both know our mission to be, and it doesn’t seem likely that either one of us is going to raise the white flag anytime soon.”
“Yet it doesn’t really matter, does it?” she countered. “You have your orders, and I have mine. In the end, only one of us will succeed in bringing the Damarek back to our monarch.” Oh, why did he have to look so rottingly handsome, with his hair tossed about in the wind and his warm eyes glowing in a face that was just a bit too tan for the pallor of a gentleman of leisure? She knew that to the rest of the world, that was exactly what he was, yet he was anything but. He wore his shirt open at the throat instead of the traditional cravat worn by men of his social standing, and Elorie suddenly understood why English aristocracy required it of their peerage. It wasn’t seemly to want a person this badly during drawing-room conversation or all civility would be tossed aside at the crook of a finger.
“I’ve been thinking about that.” He uncrossed his arms and ankles, moving toward her.
Elorie pressed herself against the hard stone behind her, stomach quivering. Did she think he’d really harm her?
For some unfathomable reason, she knew he wouldn’t take any action that would injure her. Not here, not now. His demeanor indicated all his intense focus was on her, but the look in his eyes was … hungry, not for violence, but for something else. That scared her more than if he’d been wielding a claymore, if she were honest.
He took two more steps toward her until his body towered over hers, close enough for her to feel the warmth radiating from him.
“Thinking for a change, are you?” she retorted, hiding the trembling of her hands in her sleeves.
“Haven’t we exchanged barbs for far too long without doing anything about it?” he murmured, his full lips upturned at the corners.
She swallowed visibly. “Wh-what do you mean?”
“We both have something the other wants. Why don’t we exchange that instead of the usual withering insults?”
Was he offering her the Cairdygyn Hold records book? Would he really give up that information? Of course, what choice did she really have at this point? She hadn’t any further leads other than following him to this place. Yet— “What could you possibly want from me? You clearly have the advantage of the Cairdygyn Accounts in your possession.”
His breath fanned over her face, minty and sweet. “I do have the advantage, yes. But don’t underestimate yourself. You have something I want more than a dusty old ledger.”
Her chest thumped. “And what is that?”
His gaze roamed her face, seeming to reach down into her very soul. “A kiss. Just a kiss.”
She let out the breath she’d been holding in a rush. His words had scrambled her thoughts as her stomach swooped in frantic loops. “You’re mad. We can’t— That’s tantamount to treason.”
“Who would ever know?” he said softly, his hand coming up to thumb across her cheek.
Her breath stopped. He had never touched her before.
The callused pad of his thumb traced her cheekbone with exquisite care. “It is just you and me up here, Viper. Hang the rest of it.”
The power of speech seemed to have left her. It was her darkest fantasy come true. Eydris wanted her, and he didn’t care that the fate of nations hovered between them. A curl of hot desire twisted in her abdomen as his other arm snaked around to the small of her back. This could not be. And yet…
“Even if I wanted to, I am not for you,” she whispered, dragging her eyes away from the burning light of Max’s.
“You aren’t for anyone, least of all me,” he replied, his fingertips curling around the back of her neck. He squeezed until her eyes met his again. “You’re just a dream on a castle above the ocean, and the wind will whisk it away soon enough like it never was.”
Yearning spread through her limbs. Something in Elorie let loose, and it was as if another person spoke the words when she replied, “Then you’d better make it a good dream.”
Something wild flashed in his eyes as he pulled her against his body and brought his mouth to hers.
The heat of his body engulfed her as his knowing lips kneaded her soft flesh. Fingers threaded into the hair at her nape, and the tip of his tongue begged for entrance to her mouth.
Elorie didn’t have the willpower to deny him, opening her lips to his assault. The world fell away, and there were only the melodic thrusts of his tongue in a rhythm both primal and exquisitely sweet. There were only his arms around her, crushing her against the hard lines of his own form. She felt herself melting against him, his capable hands ridding her of any resistance to his expert kiss.
She moaned into his mouth, indulging in the way his tongue sought to tangle with her own as if claiming the taste of her. Only one thought remained, and it was a distant ringing in her ears:
What have I done?