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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Quick Amanda

«Reckless», Amanda Quick

To Yook Louie, whose artistic talent and vision never cease to amaze me.I am truly grateful.

Chapter 1

Moonlight suited him.

Cloaked in the silver light that illuminated the meadow, Gabriel Banner, Earl of Wylde, looked as mysterious and as dangerous as a legend that had come to life.

Phoebe Layton brought her mare to a halt at the edge of the trees and held her breath as Wylde rode toward her. She tried to steady her hands as she gripped the reins. This was no time to lose her nerve. She was a lady on a quest.

She needed the services of a knight-errant and it was not as though she had a great deal of choice. Indeed, Wylde was the only candidate she knew who had the proper qualifications. But first she had to talk him into accepting the position.

She had been working on that project for weeks. Until tonight the solitary, reclusive earl had steadfastly ignored all her deliberately intriguing letters. In desperation, she had resorted to other tactics. In an effort to lure him forth from his lair, she had baited a trap using the one tempting morsel she knew he could not resist.

The fact that he was here tonight on this lonely country lane in Sussex meant that she had at last succeeded in provoking him into a meeting.

Wylde did not know who she was. In her letters she had signed herself only as The Veiled Lady. Phoebe regretted the small deception, but it had been a necessary maneuver. If Wylde had been aware of her true identity at the start of the venture, he would most certainly have refused to help her. He had to be persuaded to take up the quest before she dared reveal herself. Phoebe was certain that once he understood everything, he would comprehend the reasons for her initial secrecy.

No, Wylde did not know her, but Phoebe knew him.

She had not seen him in nearly eight years. At sixteen she had imagined him a living legend, a noble, valiant knight straight out of a medieval romance. In her young eyes all he had lacked was the shining armor and a sword.

Although Phoebe clearly recalled the last time she had seen him, she knew Gabriel had no recollection of it at all. He had been too busy plotting to run off with her sister, Meredith, at the time.

Phoebe tensed with curiosity now as he rode toward her. Unfortunately, the combination of the veil she was wearing and the pale moonlight made it impossible to tell just how much he had changed over the years.

Her first thought was that he seemed larger than she remembered. Taller. Leaner. Harder, somehow. His shoulders appeared broader under the caped greatcoat he wore. Snug breeches outlined the strong, muscular lines of his thighs. The curled brim of his hat cast Wylde's features into a forbidding, impenetrable shadow.

For an unsettling moment Phoebe wondered if this was the wrong man. Perhaps she was about to encounter a genuine villain, a highwayman or worse. She stirred uneasily in the saddle. If she came to grief this night, her poor, beleaguered family would no doubt feel justified in having her tombstone engraved with something fitting. SHE FINALLY PAID THE PRICE OF HER RECKLESS WAYS would do nicely. As far as her over-protective clan was concerned, Phoebe had spent her entire life getting into one scrape after another. This time she might have taken one chance too many.

"The mysterious Veiled Lady, I presume?" Gabriel inquired coldly.

Relief washed over her. Phoebe's doubts as to the man's identity were instantly resolved. There was no mistaking those dark, gritty tones even though she had not heard them in eight years. What startled her was the small thrill of anticipation they sent through her. She frowned briefly at her strange reaction.

"Good evening, my lord," she said.

Gabriel brought his black stallion to a halt a few feet away. "I received your most recent note, madam. I found it extremely irritating, just as I did the others."

Phoebe swallowed uneasily as she realized he was not in a cheerful mood. "I had rather hoped to pique your interest, sir."

"I have a strong distaste for deception."

"I see." Phoebe's heart sank. A strong distaste for deception. She suddenly wondered if she had made a serious tactical mistake in dealing with Wylde. Just as well she had been careful to go veiled tonight, she thought. She certainly did not want him to discover who she was if this night's work came to naught. "Nevertheless, I am pleased you decided to accept my invitation."

"Curiosity got the better of me." Gabriel smiled faintly in the moonlight, but the curve of his mouth held no warmth and his shadowed gaze revealed nothing. "You have become a thorn in my side during the past two months, madam. I expect you are well aware of that fact."

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