Devil in Winter Page 57

“Remember, this is Daisy Bowman,” Annabelle said dryly. “If there is the least chance of trouble to be found, she will discover it.”

Creeping along the dark passageway, Daisy experienced the same thrill that she had always felt as a child, when she and Lillian played a game of pirates in their Fifth Avenue mansion. After their daily lessons had concluded, they had run outside in the garden, a pair of imps with long braids and torn frocks, rolling their hoops and digging holes in the flower beds. One day they had taken it in their heads to create a secret pirate cave, and they had proceeded to spend the entire summer hollowing out a tunnel in the hedge that bordered the front and sides of the mansion. They had diligently cut and clipped until they had created a long channel behind the hedge, where they had scurried back and forth like a pair of mice. They held secret meetings in their “pirate cave,” of course, and had kept a wooden box filled with treasures in a hole they had dug beside the house. When their misdeeds had been discovered by the irate gardener, who was horrified by the desecration of his hedge, Daisy and Lillian had been punished for weeks afterward.

Smiling wistfully at the thought of her beloved older sister, Daisy felt a wave of loneliness sweep over her. She and Lillian had always been together, arguing, laughing, getting each other into scrapes, and rescuing each other whenever possible. Naturally she was happy that Lillian had met her perfect match in the strong-willed Westcliff…but that didn’t stop Daisy from missing her terribly. And now that the other wallflowers, including Evie, had found husbands, they were part of the mysterious married world that Daisy was still excluded from. She was going to have to find a husband soon. Some nice, sincere gentleman who would share her love of books. A man who wore spectacles, and liked dogs and children.

Feeling her way along the passageway, Daisy nearly tripped down a small flight of stairs that presented themselves unexpectedly. A faint glimmer of light from the bottom drew her forward. As she neared the light, she saw that it limned the small rectangular shape of a door. Wondering what could be on the other side of the door, Daisy paused and heard an odd, repetitive tapping. A pause, then more tapping.

Curiosity got the better of her. Placing her hands on the door, Daisy gave it a decisive shove and felt it give way. Light spilled into the passageway as she stepped into a room that contained a few empty tables and chairs, and a sideboard with two giant silver urns. Peering around the door, she saw the source of the tapping. A man was repairing a piece of damaged molding on the wall, sitting on his haunches as he expertly sank nails into the thin strip of wood with deft blows of a hammer. As soon as he saw the door open, he rose to his feet in an easy movement, his grip changing on the hammer as if he might use it as a weapon.

It was the Gypsy, the boy with the eyes of a hungry panther. He had removed his coat and waistcoat…his necktie as well…so that his upper half was covered only in a thin white shirt that had been tucked loosely into the waist of his close-fitting trousers. The sight of him elicited the same reaction Daisy had felt upstairs—a swift sting in her chest followed by the rapid pumping of her heart. Paralyzed by the realization that she was alone in the room with him, Daisy watched with unblinking eyes as he approached her slowly.

She had never seen any living being who had been fashioned with such exotic dark beauty…his skin the color of raw clover honey, the light hazel of his eyes framed with heavy black lashes, his thick obsidian hair tumbled over his forehead.

“What are you doing here?” Rohan asked, not stopping until he was so close that she back-stepped instinctively. Her shoulder blades met the wall. No man in Daisy’s limited experience had ever approached her with such directness. Clearly he knew nothing about drawing room manners.

“Exploring,” she said breathlessly.

“Did someone show you the passageway?”

Daisy started as Rohan braced his hands on the wall, one on either side of her. He was a bit taller than average but not towering, his tanned throat at a level with her eyes. Trying not to show her nervousness, she took a shallow breath and said, “No, I found it by myself. Your accent is odd.”

“So is yours. American?”

Daisy nodded, the power of speech abandoning her as she saw the glitter of a small diamond on his earlobe. There was a funny little curl of sensation in her stomach, almost like repulsion, but it made her skin feel very hot, and she realized to her dismay that she was turning bright pink. He was so close to her that she could detect a clean, soapy scent, mixed with the hints of horses and leather. It was a nice smell, a masculine fragrance, very different from that of her father, who always smelled like cologne and shoe polish, and fresh-minted paper money.

Her uneasy gaze skittered along the length of his arms, which were exposed by his rolled-up shirtsleeves…and stopped at the astonishing sight of a design that had been inked onto his right forearm. It was a small black horse with wings.

Noticing her mesmerized stare, Rohan lowered his arm to give her a better view. “An Irish symbol,” he murmured. “A nightmare horse, called a pooka.”

The absurd-sounding word brought a faint smile to Daisy’s lips. “Does it wash off?” she asked hesitantly.

He shook his head, his lashes half lowering over his remarkable eyes.

“Is a pooka like the Pegasus of the Greek myths?” Daisy asked, flattening herself as close to the wall as possible.

Rohan glanced down her body, taking a kind of leisurely inventory that no man ever had before. “No. He’s far more dangerous. He has eyes of yellow fire, a stride that clears mountains, and he speaks in a human voice as deep as a cave. At midnight, he may stop in front of your house and call out your name if he wants to take you for a ride. If you go with him, he’ll fly you across earth and oceans…and if you ever return, your life will never be the same.”

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