Cara Devon has always suffered curiosity and impetuousness, but tangling with a serial killer might cure that. Permanently.
London, 1861. Impoverished noble Cara has a simple mission after the strange death of her father – sell off his damned collection of priceless artifacts. Her plan goes awry when aristocratic beauties start dying of broken hearts, an eight inch long brass key hammered through their chests. A killer hunts amongst the nobility, searching for a regal beauty and an ancient Egyptian relic rumored to hold the key to immortality.
Her Majesty’s Enforcers are in pursuit of the murderer and they see a connection between the gruesome deaths and Cara. So does she, somewhere in London her father hid Nefertiti’s Heart, a fist sized diamond with strange mechanical workings. Adding further complication to her life, notorious crime lord, Viscount Nathaniel Lyons is relentless in his desire to lay his hands on Cara and the priceless artifact. If only she could figure out his motive.
Self-preservation fuels Cara’s search for the gem. In a society where everyone wears a mask to hide their true intent, she needs to figure out who to trust, before she makes a fatal mistake.
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Short author bio:
Books and writing have always been an enormous part of Anita’s life. She survived school by hiding out in the library, with several thousand fictional characters for company. At university, she overcame the boredom of studying accountancy by squeezing in Egyptology papers and learning to read hieroglyphics.
Today, Anita writes steampunk novels with a sexy edge and an Egyptian twist. She lives in rural New Zealand surrounded by an assortment of weird and wonderful equines, felines, canine and chickens.
There was something cathartic about wielding a crowbar. Cara used one end to loosen the tacks, before ripping up the expensive, patterned carpet. She tossed the strip in a growing pile by the wall. She never intended to remove all the carpet, but with the cool metal bar in her hand, she lost herself in the rhythm of tearing away a layer from her father’s sanctuary. Pushing a deep auburn spike of hair from her forehead, she took a moment’s break from the dusty work. As spring gave way to summer, Cara found the air inside the narrow terrace house stuffy and oppressive, a situation exacerbated by her current labour. She flung open the second-storey window, took a large breath of London air, and coughed. Coal smoke and steam belched from the horseless carriages below and spiralled past her window. The combination of the narrow street and tall buildings forced the vehicle emissions skyward.
She blinked the stinging smog from her eyes and leaned on the casement as she surveyed her work. She had taken up most of the library carpet, the floor underneath finally revealed. Coated in several years of dust and grime, the boards appeared dull in the morning light. Pacing the floor, she knew she was close; a spot to one side called to her. The hairs on the backs of her arms rose as she walked the bare boards. Ah. There. She saw wooden planks stained a slightly darker colour. A maid spent hours on her knees there. With a scrubbing brush and bleach, she had tried to wash away the blood before the new carpets were laid.
There was an old saying: blood will out. Cara wondered if this was what her grandmother meant. You can scrub as hard as you want, but you can never remove the taint, not once it leached into the porous fibres of the wood. The stain became a permanent reminder of the violence committed.
Cara remembered she lay on the floor, unaware her blood soaked the carpet and seeped into the floor beneath. Darkness crept over the floor and surrounded her numb body. Oblivion wove tendrils around her, sight the last sense she relinquished. Her vision turned black as her fourteen-year-old self watched her father. He took a book from the shelf and pressed the hidden lever, before the waiting darkness swept her into blessed unconsciousness.
Twenty-one-year-old Cara fixed her line of sight and walked to the bookcase. The book in question was Justineby the Marquis de Sade. She snorted at the irony. She and Justine shared a similar experience at a young age, but Cara was grateful she never followed the unfortunate literary heroine’s sad path. She removed the book and balanced it in her hand. The leather was a dark red, soft and supple from years of hands caressing its surface. The book was a valuable first edition, as were all the volumes in the library. Her father had expensive tastes and a love for the finer things in life. He valued his material possessions above all else. Even his only child.
The blinds, drawn over the carriage windows, concealed the occupant. She stared at the open door, debating her course of action. This development wasn’t unexpected; in fact, she invited it. But his timing was annoying. She had things to do and no desire to be in London any longer than necessary. Picking up the corner of her skirts, she stepped into the carriage and took the bench seat facing backward. The Villainous Viscount, known in society as Nathaniel Trent, Viscount Lyons, occupied the opposite side.
Cara guessed him to be approaching thirty, young for his position in the underworld, but he had spent ten years ruthlessly climbing to the top. He was reputed to be the head underworld figure in London and beyond. His family had no fortune to match their titles, so he set about acquiring one. With a formidable head for business, he established an airship cargo company. It generated a healthy income stream on its own, plus had the added benefit of providing an excellent front for his illegal activities, and extended his reach far beyond London. He simultaneously repulsed and attracted society. He was titled, rich, bad to know, and deadly to cross.
And he’s handsome.
He was tall, his legs taking up an inordinate amount of room in the plush carriage. Her eyes ran up over highly polished, black boots and muscular thighs. Heading farther north, she took in his powerful torso in a formfitting, grey frock coat. He wore his black hair short and his sideburns narrow and long, emphasising his strong face and square jaw. A shiver ran down her spine as she met his steel-blue gaze.
“You shot my men.”
At least he got straight to the point, no inane social niceties. She would never have to worry about inviting him over for tea, crumpets, and chitchat.
“They were trespassing in my house and tried to rob me.” She undid the buttons on her jacket. The interior of the carriage constricted around her; the heat from his dominating presence caused the temperature to rise.
“I’ve killed men for doing less.” His tone was well modulated, with no change in inflection nor any hint of anger; they could have been discussing the weather.
“So have I.” She held his gaze. She could play his pissing contest all day if he wanted. He wasn’t getting his hands on her father’s notebook. Lord Devon sold her into slavery and nearly beat her to death when she escaped. Her father owed her a large debt, and with his notebook secure, she intended to collect a small portion of her due. She was going to enjoy breaking up his valuable collection of antiquities as much as she enjoyed smashing his stupid, precious clock.
“Keep your men out of my house, unless you want to lose them permanently.” She shifted on the seat. Her jacket fell open to reveal the shoulder holster with the gun nestled close to her chest. A custom Smith and Wesson with a carved ivory handle, the delicacy of the bone co-ordinated with the cream silk lining of her jacket. She made her threat without blinking. Let him discover she was no blushing English rose. She had thorns.