Living breath-to-breath beneath the shadow of violence, Italian perfumer and apothecary Allegra Grimaldi was forced to learn the killing arts from the Hand of God--a religious assassin. She has sworn never to use her deadly skills, but now a blackmailer has her by the proverbial throat.***
To save her family from an ugly death, she must do the unthinkable. Infiltrate the court of King Henry VIII, poison the heretic Anne Boleyn before she becomes queen--and frame Anne's bastard brother for the crime. Honest and principled, Sir Joscelin is the perfect pawn.
Allegra is clever, captivating...and her warning to Anne immediately rouses Joscelin's suspicion. Sworn to protect his sister, and striving for recognition from the powerful father who disdains him, Joscelin has no choice but to put aside his attraction to the mysterious lady and gather evidence to see her burn for witchcraft.
To avert a disaster that will change the face of Europe, this stalwart soldier of incorruptible integrity and the fallen woman who breathes deception must learn to trust each other--and discover the one truth that could save them all.
Joscelin hesitated outside her closed door. The lady lingered over her bath, naked but heartbeats away. He'd entered her dangerous orbit only to return the cloak she'd dropped so imperiously at his feet.
Now here he stood, lurking outside the chamber of another man's mistress. He pulled himself together and knocked.
"Who goes?" Allegra's chilly voice would freeze any man in his boots. But she would hardly croon out a welcome to any random caller.
"It's Joscelin. I'm for bed, signora--for my bed." Damnation, he sounded like a bloody idiot. Didn't he have the sense to keep away from her? "I have your cloak."
"You had better not leave it on the stair, Sir Joscelin Boleyn, unless you wish to tempt some thief to rashness." Her voice set him throbbing. "Bring it in."
Certainement, that was a foolish notion. He steeled himself and edged in, gaze nailed to the floor.
"Santa Maria, come inside! And close the door--there's a wicked draft. I assure you, I won't bite."
Would she toy with him now--a woman's game of advance and retreat? If so, by God, he was her equal in that role. He consigned decorum to the Devil and glared straight at her.
The chamber suited her, but he was blind to all but the dance of firelight over graceful shoulders, the artless seduction of curls pinned on her head, the light shading her eyes to lilac.
Joscelin dropped her cloak over a chair and glued his eyes resolutely to the ceiling. "Will you be wanting any supper, signora?"
"I am still groaning from our earlier repast." Her boudoir voice stroked the words.
"I'll tell the innkeeper. Anything else you desire?"
Now the Devil had his tongue for certain. The word resonated in the steamy silence.
"May I beseech a favor…before we go to bed?" Her voice was temptation incarnate, caressing the syllables like a lover's kiss.
He cleared his throat. "I'm your servant. What do you require?"
She swept a hand toward the steaming pitcher. "If you please, pour the water over my hair."
His blood turned molten, flesh more than willing for amorous play. Christ on the cross, had she decided she desired him after all? Let her think him dull as the village idiot, but if she wanted him in her bed, she must give him some clearer sign of intent.
"I'm no lady's maid. But I'll attempt it."
When she drew the comb from her hair, it tumbled down, sable curls pooling on the floor behind her. His mouth went dry as he imagined wrapping all that glorious hair around him and burying himself in her heat.
The ravening beast in his codpiece roared for release. When he knelt behind her, the musk of jasmine filled his head.
"No doubt you'll smell like a flower garden," she said idly. "You too shall require a bath."
"I--don't mind it." He felt like a tongue-tied schoolboy. She had to know what havoc she was wreaking. She was no blushing virgin, but the Spanish ambassador's mistress.
"Pour the water, per favore," she said coolly. "If ever you tire of diplomacy, I shall give you a dazzling reference as a lady's maid."
"If I rise no farther than that, I'll greatly disappoint my father." He sluiced water over her head. Rivulets of soap slid down her back. Unable to prevent himself, his brown soldier's hand traced the delicate arch of her spine, her skin like ivory damask, one vertebra at a time. She shivered beneath his touch, but did not rebuke him.
God save them both from madness.
"Damn it, Allegra, I have to know. The Spaniard--tell me truly, is he your lover?"