Victoria Fontaine may be a vision of genteel refinement, every inch the lady, but she has secrets that make her dangerous to any man bold enough to pursue her. Falcon Delaney is no fool, and he’s more than bold enough. He’s a master of seduction, a man who lights something primal inside her and almost makes Victoria forget the brutal ravages of a war that took everything from her. She lives by the rules of an unforgiving society, and yet Falcon seduces her heart and mind until none of that matters. To her shock, Victoria finally realizes she’s willing to disregard every rule to have him—until a heartbreaking telegram sends her riding west in deadly pursuit of a killer.
Powerful, dangerous, and broodingly handsome, Falcon has spent years pursuing a stolen cache of Union gold. When he’s attacked and awakens in a locked New York cellar, gazing into the enchanting eyes of Victoria Fontaine, he’s more than willing to forget all about treasure. Torn between obsession and duty, Falcon longs to cherish Victoria, to understand the secrets and shadows he senses in her and make her his own. But, always a lone wolf, he cannot make any promises, even to the woman who has stolen his heart. Then Victoria is wrenched from his arms by a shocking blood debt—and Falcon has no choice but to follow her in a desperate race to reach her before her enemies do, to a place where danger, desire, and a shared destiny await.
This ebook includes an excerpt from another Loveswept title.
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Falcon Delaney drew his glass toward him and, with the other hand, reached for the gold coins lying on the bar. As soon as the coins lay in his palm he went still, staring at his drink. The loud noise around him in the dingy waterfront barroom faded, and he felt his breath quicken as excitement stirred in his veins.
Christ, he thought then, this thing is beginning to affect me the way a beautiful woman would!
Some would have called it obsession. Falcon called it duty.
Ignoring the fight going on in one corner and the loud beginnings of another nearby, he slid his gaze to his hand and slowly opened the long fingers. And his eyes focused, as if on a lodestar, on a single, dully gleaming coin.
A three-dollar gold piece.
After a moment, his expression betraying no undue interest, he picked the three-dollar piece from his palm and placed it on the bar. Then he dropped the remaining coins into his pocket and fished out a five-dollar gold piece, placing it on the bar also.
“Sam,” he said quietly.
The bartender, five feet away in a very noisy room, heard the summons instantly, and responded by moving quickly to stand across the bar. Busily wiping the stained wood with an equally stained cloth, he stole a glance at the lean, powerful man who had called him. “Yes, sir?” Not many rated a “sir” in Sam’s establishment, but he bestowed it on this stranger automatically.
One long finger tapped a coin gently. “Do you recall who paid with this coin, Sam?”
Sam looked at the coin, then darted another glance at the stranger’s face. “Well, sir—“
The stranger’s free hand pushed a five-dollar gold piece across the bar. “Think hard, friend,” he invited gently in his soft voice.
Sam was tough enough to have survived a good many years on the waterfront. He was also smart enough to know what was necessary in order to spend a few more years there. “Yes, sir, I remember.” He kept his voice low, even though no one was near the stranger.
“Do you know him?”
“No, sir, not really. He’s been in here once or twice. He’s here now.”
Falcon removed his hand from the five-dollar gold piece and pocketed the other. “Describe him. And tell me where he’s sitting now.”
“He’s sitting by the front window, alone. Mean-looking bastard. Black eye patch and a scar down the other cheek.”
“No one has asked about the coin or him tonight, have they, Sam?”
Sam met the mild, green eyes steadily. “No, sir. No one at all. I never saw that coin.”
Falcon drew out a thin cigar and became wholly absorbed in lighting it. “Thank you, Sam,” he murmured.
Sam swept the five-dollar gold piece neatly off the bar and moved away, expressionless.
Drawing strongly on the cigar, Falcon allowed smoke to veil his eyes and half-turned to glance casually around the room. He spotted the man instantly—sitting alone by the window, powerful shoulders hunched as he stared moodily down at his drink.
Falcon watched him without appearing to, his mind speculating. One coin. Hardly basis enough for an arrest. But the man was about the right age, and, God knew, any leads at all had been few and far between.
He was marking time tonight, or had been until he saw the coin. Word had come from another agent that the list had finally been assembled, so that, finally, they would know the men who had composed the circle of power out of Charleston. But Falcon had grown bored with waiting, and had spent the afternoon down at the waterfront. There would be no harm, he decided now, in keeping an eye on this man.
Falcon thought of the long years, the fruitless search for a million dollars in gold. He thought of trails ending in nothing. He thought of the years he had spent in Texas as a Ranger, searching, always searching for some hint of a gold shipment stolen by rebels years before.
Almost ten years of his life spent searching.
Unconsciously, his jaw hardened, and something inside him hardened too. This was the first time he had stumbled across one of the specially minted coins, the first time he might be able to question a man who’d possessed one. Keep an eye on him? Hell, no. This time, he meant to take full advantage of the kiss of luck. This time, he meant to get some answers.
Falcon finished his drink and cigar leisurely, watching the man unobtrusively. And he speculated. Why, he wondered for the thousandth time, had so few of those coins found their way into circulation? And why had this one turned up after so many years?
Even in the turmoil of war, it had been relatively simple to determine that almost none of the stolen shipment had been used in payment for anything; after April of ‘63 there had been no evidence that the Confederacy had been in possession of the money. In fact, after that time, the gold had disappeared. There had been only a few of the specially minted coins changing hands during the war…and then nothing.
They had heard rumors from their spies in the South, rumors of a falling-out among the thieves. Rumors of treachery. But none of the spies had been able to get anywhere near the secretive group believed responsible for the theft. It was only now, after years, that they had been able to piece together certain facts.
And now…this lone coin. None knew better than Falcon how unwise it was to trust in coincidence, and he was bothered by the coin turning up. It had been years since any of the coins had come to light—and then it had been only a handful, untraceable.
Was he assuming too much? Did he believe this coin was a valuable piece of evidence only because he wanted it to be?
He had heard other, older agents talking from time to time about the “hellish cases.” Those assignments that dragged on, year after year, with no progress, and the plodding work that continued with no end in sight. That kind of thing destroyed good men. Face a man with a gun, Falcon knew, and it would all be over quickly—one way or another. But a case such as this one—obscure, clouded by the chaos of wartime, the trails going colder by the year—yes, it could wear a man down.
Out of the dozens of agents who had begun this search, only a handful remained.
Pushing the speculation from his mind, Falcon’s eyes narrowed as he watched the man by the window check his watch and then rise and purposefully leave the barroom.
Instantly, Falcon slid away from the bar and made his way through the crowded room, hardly noticing that hardened waterfront denizens gave way before him as though by instinct.
Sam noticed. On the whole, he was glad he had answered the stranger’s questions.
The waterfront was alive with noise and darkness; Falcon ignored the noise, and the darkness was an old friend. He moved easily and silently from one patch of gloom to the next, his eyes never leaving the man striding along some distance ahead.
Would he discover just another hand that had innocently touched the gold? Would this man tell him he had received the coin in payment, or in change, or that he couldn’t remember and what the hell difference did it make?
Another dead-end trail?
Falcon unbuttoned his coat and loosened the gun he wore stuck inside his belt. Out of deference to the city he was visiting, he had chosen not to wear a gun openly; the loose cut of his coat hid this one admirably. He had worn a gun since he was old enough to lift the weight, and not even a “civilized” city could persuade him to abandon the habit.
And no man in his right mind went unarmed at the waterfront.
Intent on his quarry, Falcon almost swore in surprise when the man went into a lighted shop with dusty books displayed in the front window. It was hardly a destination Falcon would have suspected this man to have as his goal, but it wasn’t that surprising either. Falcon had known weathered saddletramps who cherished the few books they’d been able to beg or borrow.
So why had his hackles risen like a dog’s with the scent of a cougar in the air?
Frowning a little, Falcon hesitated in the shadows of a nearby deserted building. Then, loosening his gun a bit more, he strode quickly to the door of the shop and went inside.
He saw no one for a moment, just shelves and shelves of books. He smelled them, dry and dusty, and—from somewhere outside this room—dampness and mildew. And then he smelled something else; a whiff of lavender, as unexpected and intoxicating as a single flower found blooming in the desert.
She moved into his view, intent on the shelf of books one gloved finger glided along slowly. Her hat was precisely angled, her calico dress neat, her kid boots only a little dusty. Wheat-gold hair was arranged simply, with delicate ringlets lending even more fragility to her exquisite face. She moved with a grace that was totally unconscious and utterly riveting.
And Falcon discovered then that, whatever his obsession with the gold shipment, his reaction to a beautiful woman was quite definitely a thing apart after all. It might have been the sheer unexpectedness of her presence, or perhaps even his heightened senses—but whatever the cause, Falcon had never felt such an instant and total attraction in his life.
For one of the very few times in his adult life, he allowed his emotions to distract him. He couldn’t question the man here, not with her in the shop, not the kind of questioning he meant to do. He could wait outside…but if there was a back entrance?…Cursing his own indecision, he finally stepped forward, toward the woman, intending to move on to the rear of the shop and find out if there was another door.
She glanced up, meeting his unconsciously fixed gaze with the greenest eyes he had ever seen. Then those eyes flickered beyond him, widening, and emotion flashed in the depths like sudden, green fire.
And something hard struck him a solid blow just beneath his right ear. He felt the instant wave of sickness as he fell forward, the blinding pain and shock. And he was already losing consciousness as he hit the floor, hearing only dimly a sharp, feminine cry of alarm and the sudden scuffle and thudding of booted footsteps.