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The letters arrive unsigned. The writer demands that Penelope meet him in one of London's most ill-reputed and darkest streets. When she dares to keep the assignations, she encounters a man in a black mask who leaves her breathless from his stolen kiss. Yet he claims the reason for their surreptitious tryst is an honorable one. Should she believe him? Can he be trusted?
The clang of steel striking steel reverberated in Penelope’s ears. Spine pressed against the rough wood of the building’s entrance alcove, she strove to peer past the left shoulder of the man who blocked her view. Illumination from the corner gas lamp cast flickering shadows on the contorted faces of the three men who lunged and parried their swords at her protector. He blocked each thrust, moving with an almost effortless agility. The tip of his blade flashed like silver lightning as he appeared to tease the attackers by slashing off the length of one’s beard, slicing coat buttons off another’s jacket and spearing the other’s hat.
“Fight fair, damn ye!” With a hurried exploratory feel of his newly trimmed whiskers, the burly sailor waved his sword and charged.
“Like this?” Blade catching blade, in one expert move, the man relieved the sailor of his sword to send it flying over his head. Then, with a deliberate swish, he struck the metal at the fellow’s exposed wrist. Blood streamed from the wound and splattered like raindrops to pool in a crimson puddle on the cobble-stoned street.
“’oly ‘ell!” His comrades hesitated, giving a wary glance toward their injured partner. Swiftly, Penelope’s defender planted a booted foot squarely in the middle of one man’s chest, giving him a hard shove at the same time that he effectively shredded the other’s shirt front to nothing more than flimsy ribbons.
Mouths gaping, the three staggered back. Taking advantage of their momentary confusion, the man acted quickly. Seizing Penelope’s wrist, he whirled to his right. The two bolted down the shadowy alleyway, dodging past a couple of frightened cats and jumping nimbly over the prostrate form of a snoring vagrant. Penelope struggled in her long skirts to keep pace. Lungs burning from their need of air, she gulped down a fast breath and dared a peek behind. The sailors pursued, the thud of their heavy footfalls echoing in the night air.
A yank on Penelope’s arm directed her to follow around the corner of a tall structure. Panting as she raced beside the man’s lengthening strides, she gasped, “We shan’t lose them!”
White teeth gleamed in the moonlight as a devilish grin was tossed across his shoulder. “Have faith.” He released a sharp whistle, the high note threatening to pierce Penelope’s eardrum. Hoof beats clattered on a nearby street. An instant later, a midnight stallion trotted up before them, and with one fluid movement, the man leaped into the saddle. Before Penelope could utter a word, he leaned down, grasped her about the waist and lifted her bodily off the ground. She barely had time to clench the horse’s mane before the animal dashed off at breakneck speed.
With no idea of their intended destination, Penelope tried in vain to make sense of her surroundings. But the darkness of the night, and the zigzagged flight through a labyrinth of streets and alleys served only to confuse her already bewildered mind. She knew nothing to do except to pray she stayed atop the powerfully galloping beast.
The man’s arms tightened around her as he pulled on the reins. Obediently, the horse slowed its wild ride, coming to stop before a pair of iron gates that Penelope’s dulled senses vaguely recognized.
She slid to the ground and teetered off balance. Leaning from the saddle, the man clutched her elbow to help steady her. Blue eyes crinkled as they watched her from behind their covering mask.
“All safe now, Miss Penelope.” His husky voice murmured the words almost like a caress.
“Who are you?” She grasped the edge of the cape that swung across his shoulder. “Why did you send for me? What-”
Before she could ask any more questions, he cut in with, “I must go. Until next time, my sweet.”
“No!” A spurt of anger drowned her fear and confusion. “There won’t be a next time!”
His mouth covered hers in a hard, thorough kiss. “You’ll come.” Heels kicking the stallion, the man’s broad shouldered form rode off into the night.