To Sarah Ashton, Lady Clevancy, chaos seemed to swirl in the damp night like leaves in the wind. The last place she wanted to be tonight was locked in a carriage with George and his mother. She huddled into the musty squabs of red velvet as the Beldon's lumbering barouche inched through the crush of carriages converging on Carlton House. Her life was unraveling. She shivered. It might have been because of the chill in the spitting October air.

"I don't care what you say, Sarah," Lady Beldon remonstrated for the hundredth time, pulling her lap rug more securely over her knees. "These dreadful murders strike fear into one's heart." The many ostrich feathers on her massive aubergine turban shivered in dread.

Sarah didn't care about the murders. She had come to London only to see Mr. Lestrom, her solicitor. She would have seen him today but the coach had lost a wheel on their way into London from Bath. The letter from Lestrom's son, its crumpled pages now carefully refolded inside her reticule, must be a mistake. How could there be a challenge to her ownership of Clershing? She had just paid off the crushing debt her father left when he died. Finally, she had almost escaped her genteel penury. If she lost Clershing, what would she do? The house in Laura Place would go as well with nothing to support it. Cousin Amelia, her servants Addie and Jasco, they depended on her. What would become of them? And her own future? A governess, a housekeeper? She could never take orders from some haughty, thoughtless creature. She would be sacked within a week.

"George, how can you take your own mother into a metropolis where I am like to be killed at any moment?" Lady Beldon poked her second son's knee with one plump finger.

George Upcott did not even turn from looking out the window. How could he be calm, Sarah wondered, when she thought she might scream at any moment? "If you like," he said, "I shall order John Coachman to turn round."

"But I cannot miss the Prince's ball," the dowager almost wailed. "He's opening Carlton House for the first time since the Nash renovations. People are begging for cards. If one were not to go ... well, I hardly think one would be considered fashionable at all."

George shrugged. "As you choose." He was a well-made man of medium height, his hair a sandy blond, his eyes translucent gray-blue. He was a handsome specimen. Everyone told Sarah so. His lips were thin and straight like his nose, his complexion rather wan since he spent most of his waking hours in a laboratory. He was serious and single-minded, a promising man of medicine. All Bath had expected him and Sarah to make a match these three years and more. It should be natural to confide her dilemma to him. It wasn't. He had never approved of her managing her affairs herself, with only the aid of dear Mr. Lestrom. If she lost Clershing, George would be sure it was her fault. And if her penury was not even genteel? What would George say then?

"I wouldn't miss being in London now for the world," George remarked, unmindful of his mother's nerves. "I can't for the life of me see how the blood is entirely drained from the victims' bodies. Once the heart stops beating the blood ceases to flow."

"How can such crimes be committed in the most civilized city in the world eighteen years into the nineteenth century?" Lady Beldon cried.

The coach lurched to a stop. Horses snorted and stamped around them. Coachmen shouted. A young woman shrieked with laughter. Sarah heard the noise only dimly.

What kind of challenge to her ownership was it? Her solicitor's letter gave few details. She had never heard of this dreadful Julien Davinoff, who laid claim to her land. Her thoughts stole to her grandfather's disastrous propensity for gambling. Had he lost Clershing gaming? Surely a note of hand so old could not be brought to a court of law. Well, she was not giving up Clershing without a fight.

Sarah had no desire to go to the Prince's ball. She had tried to stay home tonight, pleading that her head ached, but Lady Beldon would have none of it. Sarah needed Lady Beldon's chaperonage to stay in London while she conducted her business. And Lady Beldon required an entourage at any social occasion. So Sarah was going to Carlton House, whether she would or no. She didn't even have the satisfaction of knowing she looked well. She wore the only dress she owned fit for a ball. The tiny puff sleeves and high waists that were the height of fashion were not always kind to women with voluptuous figures. The dress was rich looking, to be sure. But the cream colored lace would have been better stark white for her dark hair, her green eyes and pale, almost translucent skin. She had to acknowledge that the cream color pulled the freshness from the lavender satin and muddied it somehow. George had helped her choose it. He insisted on the fabric. The lace tucked modestly into the neck and cascading over the hem was his suggestion, too. The deep rose silk George had so disparaged rose to mind, with a daring Austrian neckline and a black beaded fringe. George was probably right. It would have seemed fast.

"We'll never get there at this rate." Lady Beldon complained.

George finally looked exasperated. He leaned out the window and called for the driver to take an alternate route. The carriage swung into a side street and the going got better. But shortly before Hyde Park Corner the carriage pulled up again amidst the noise of a crowd.

George leaned his head out the window again. "Why are we stopping, John?"

"The way is blocked by a mob, Sir," came the answering call.

"Well, push through," George ordered and sank back on the cushions. "What could induce a crowd to gather? Everyone is either locked indoors in terror or on their way to the ball."

"I don't know and I don't care, " Lady Beldon declared. "Tell him to hurry, George."

There was nothing to be done, however. The carriage crept into the gathering. Those in the crowd craned their necks to look ahead. The streets were wet and black. Bare branches clicked in the wind. What could all these people be looking at?

As they came to the center of the knot of people, Sarah began to dread what she might see. Two very official-looking men stood in a pool of light cast by one of the new gas lamps. One man held a notebook in which he was writing. The other questioned a beautiful girl, wrapped only in a shawl of Norwich silk over a diaphanous gown, in spite of the chill night. She was red-haired, with wide lips and blue eyes. Sarah was struck by a sly quality in her expression. One would never forget that face. A few feet away a woman lay supine on the cobblestones.

Was this a murder? The woman on the cobblestones was very still. Instinctively Sarah put her hand to her mouth. "George," she whispered. But he must have come to the same conclusion, for he leapt out of the carriage without a word to his companions and elbowed his way through the crowd, shouting, "I am a doctor, let me through."

"George, don't leave us," Lady Beldon cried. When she saw that she was having no effect on him, she rapped her cane on the inside of the roof and ordered the driver to pull ahead.

Sarah leaned out the window as the barouche pulled up to the barricade. All thoughts of her own predicament seemed instantly insignificant. She didn't want to know what had happened here, yet she could not turn away. Lady Beldon sank back into the cushions with a low moan. George pushed his way through the barricades into the circle of light.

One of the constables, the younger and stockier of the two, blocked George's path to the corpse with a broad shoulder. "This 'ere investigation is official." Sarah strained to hear.

George pulled at his cravat. "Of course. But you must require a physician's opinion."

"We know what we got 'ere. Same as the other twelve." George was being dismissed. Sarah realized with a shock that this was one of the murders they called the "Vampire killings."

"Are you a fool, man?" George protested. "I'm a specialist in blood transfusion."

"What's that you say?" the stocky one asked, suspicious.

George mastered his impatience enough to snap his reply without actually shouting. "Draining blood out of healthy people into sick ones."

"Then," the thinner constable interrupted in more cultured tones, "we could use your perspective, doctor." He held up a hand against his cohort's protests. "My name is Chaldon, Sir, and this is Barnett." He gestured an invitation toward the body. "What do you make of it?"

George pushed past Barnett and knelt over the body. Sarah could see a dark stain on the walk. The too-pale countenance had already begun to sink in upon itself without the support of filled capillaries, so the body had a shrunken look. Even Sarah knew that its blood had been drained. Her mouth went dry. She couldn't take her eyes off the dead girl's staring eyes. George didn't seem perturbed at all. He turned her chin. She wasn't stiff.

"Well, what do you think?" Chaldon asked. His voice almost trembled.

"I see no possibility that these two small puncture wounds could account for this woman's death," George pronounced, wiping his hands as he rose to his feet. "So much blood could not be drained, even using my new invention. I call it a syringe," he added.

The two constables exchanged disappointed glances.

"Is this how the other bodies were found?" George asked.

"Aye," Barnett answered. " 'Cept one where the throat was just ripped open, like by an animal, maybe. He bled to death more natural-like." Sarah was shocked. This fellow thought bleeding to death was natural.

"Can you think of no way someone could drain the blood?" Chaldon pressed.

"Well," George rubbed his chin. "Perhaps if there were some sort of pump connected to the syringe to create a greater suction ... "

"You sound as if you have the beginnings of a theory, doctor," Chaldon encouraged. "May we prevail upon you to come down to the magistrate's office in Bow Street tomorrow? We are quite anxious to learn how these murders were accomplished." He paused and looked down at the corpse. "If we know how it was done, we are one step closer to catching this madman."

George gave a gratified smile. "I shall place myself at the Magistrate's disposal."

"May I go?" The red-haired woman broke in upon their contemplation of the body. Sarah had almost forgotten her. Now all eyes turned her way. Her ruby lips were fascinating. Her flaming hair gleamed.

"Well, Miss, since you have seen his face and can identify our murderer, it might be best for your own safety if you came with us." To Sarah's surprise, the girl chuckled.

"I am enough safe. There are never two deaths in one night, yes?" She had an accent. Continental. Germanic?

"Never been a witness before," Barnett rejoined.

"You saw the murder?" George asked. His gaze was rapt upon her. "How was it done?"

"I cannot say," the woman replied as the fingers of the chill breeze caressed her flaming ringlets. "I saw the man's face. I heard the girl scream. But while the deed was done his back was turned. His cape covered all. Me, I hid myself in the shadows. But I have told all this."

This woman should be frightened, Sarah thought. Death had barely passed her by tonight. You should want to take her hand and soothe her, tell her she would be all right. Instead Sarah shuddered when those cold blue eyes scanned the crowd.

"Even drew us a pitcher." Barnett waived a page of his notebook. The drawing was a few lines merely, but evocative. "Tall, well-made, dark 'air, dark eyes, 'igh cheekbones, dressed in a evening cape," Barnett recited.

"With your kind description, we will set the Runners out to comb the city and beyond. He cannot escape." Chaldon apparently felt he needed to reassure the woman of the cold eyes with lies. She hardly seemed to need reassurance. And they were lies. Hundreds fit that description.

Barnett looked up from his notebook. "You sure that's all, are you?"

"Really, gentlemen, no more. I will go home now."

And they let her go, in spite of the danger, in spite of their questions. Sarah couldn't believe it. They all looked into her eyes as though they had been turned to stone and watched the only witness in a string of grisly murders walk into the night alone.

Sarah put her hand to her forehead. The whole scene was like a play revealed by the garish glow of the street lamps. The emotions stirred here yet drifted in the wet air. George, the officers and the beautiful woman were actors on a stage at the denouement. The climax done, they played out their parts by rote, flattened by the light, until the next play, the next climax of emotion. The people who pushed and shoved for a better view of the tragedy were a dim chorus, a mere surge of humanity in the darkness between the lamps.

George came to himself. "I say, I hope you know where to find her."

" 'Course we do." Barnett shook his head. "Bristol Court, off Dean Street." He flipped through his notebook to read the address.

Chaldon snatched the notebook from him. "Did you say Bristol Court?" They looked at each other for a long moment, as surprise and then dismay crossed their faces in turn.

"What is it?" George cried.

Chaldon snapped the notebook shut and tossed it to Barnett in disgust. "There is no such address off Dean Street."

George came back to the carriage looking smug. He swung into the seat next to his mother and patted her hand. The coach inched away. Still Sarah sat forward and craned to see the constables standing over the body. She couldn't release her awful fascination with the crime.

A countenance in the gloom at the edge of the crowd jerked Sarah back from the face of humanity to the face of a man. Tall, well-made, dark eyes, arched brows, high cheekbones, with sensuous, curving lips and wild, black hair against pale skin. A cape swirled about him. The evocative lines of the red-haired woman's drawing flashed into Sarah's brain. Could he be the man who had murdered here tonight? His eyes burned as he surveyed the scene. They were hard, unforgiving. He had seen everything, forgotten nothing, and he was angry. The crowd shrank away from him. He seemed to float in his own space. Sarah strained to see, leaning over to press her breasts against the door of the coach. He was beautiful, she thought, but like the forces of disorder, he lurked at the edge of the tenuous circles of light, waiting to engulf them. This man could kill, she was sure of it. She shuddered. Be sensible. Your mood is coloring your thoughts. But she could not look away from that face. Was it fear that wound its way into her heart, or fascination? Before she could decide, his cape swirled and he disappeared into the darkness.

Sarah stared after him, wondering if he had ever been there at all. Foolish girl. There was nothing to connect this strange man to the victim lying in the circle of light. The drawing could have been anyone. Behind her George apologized for leaving them. His mother revived and began to scold. It didn't matter. What mattered was one face in the dark, barely discerned. The face of anarchy, perhaps the face of evil, infinitely repellent, infinitely attractive.

Sarah trailed behind George and his mother as Lady Beldon remarked on each new wonder of Carlton House and found fault with each. Lady Beldon scanned the Dutch and Flemish paintings for "The Shipbuilder and his Wife" by Rembrandt, as she was pushed through the Blue Salon by the crush of people. "Rumor has it the Regent paid five thousand guineas for it," she yelled into Sarah's ear. It would have been a whisper, but the cacophony made whispers impossible.

"There it is," Sarah pointed. Souls gleamed out through Rembrandt's daubs of paint.

Lady Beldon examined the small, dark portrait. "Disappointing, really," she pouted. "It doesn't look worth so much. They aren't even handsome subjects."

Sarah gritted her teeth. This was worse than she had imagined.

The crowd spilled through the public rooms and downstairs into the Prince's private apartments. The Beldon party surged with it. The long Gothic Conservatory was a fairy-land. Chinese lanterns hung below the stained glass ceiling which fanned out in a spider tracery above its supporting columns. Here the Regent would serve his intimates late supper at a table 200 feet long. It was said that the stream running down the center of the table held real fish.

The money spent upon Carlton House over the protestations of Parliament was a symbol of the Regent's power. With his father locked up at Windsor, he was King in all but name. The nation was grateful there was no danger of the old King partially regaining his senses to rule again. Carlton House was the Regent's reward for services rendered.

The crowds pressed around them. Sarah felt elbows and knees prodding her. Why was she here? Just as she was ready to turn tail, she heard a familiar tinkling laugh above the hubbub. It could only be Corina, her lifelong, sometimes best, friend. She craned to see, but she was too short. So she started through the crowd into the mirrored dining hall said to be modeled after Versailles. Of course Corina would be drawn to mirrors. She would find Corina the center of a dozen young men. Her beautiful friend was a magnet for anything male. It was some minutes of concerted pushing and many muttered apologies before the golden hair appeared.

"Corina, I thought I would never find you in this crush," she called over the din of conversation. Corina wore white satin, with topaz dripping from her ears, trembling upon her breast, around her wrist, from combs in her hair. She was draped on the arm of Sir Rodney Kelston, of blond mustaches and broad shoulders, who hung on her every word. But there were several other young men that Sarah knew. John Kerseymere was there, eldest of the Kerseymere brothers—about to give up the handsome regimentals he wore tonight and muster out, and the young Viscount Alvaney. They looked uncomfortable in their collars, so high they could not truly turn their heads. They had all dressed in their finest. Fobs and seals and diamond rings, gold and silver snuff boxes and patterned waistcoats in a rainbow of colors were everywhere.

"Sarah, what are you doing here?" Corina challenged, frowning. "I thought you were a stick-at-home in Bath when you wouldn't come with me."

Ten pairs of male eyes focused on Sarah. She cleared her throat. "I came up to see my solicitors at the last moment. George and his mother were good enough to bring me."

"And no time to order a new dress I see, though I have always liked that lavender."

Sarah felt herself flush. It wouldn't have mattered what she was wearing, she told herself. She always felt dowdy around Corina.

"You're looking very drawn tonight. You must let me suggest strawberries, just under the eyes here." Corina touched Sarah's face with one elegant finger, then leaned in. "How fortunate we are to have escorts who can procure us their mothers' invitation cards," she whispered. Sarah recognized the signal that she was forgiven. Sarah thought it might have to do with her dress. What woman wouldn't want a friend who set her off to advantage?

"Oh, I had a card of my own," Sarah replied. Corina frowned, then consciously relaxed her brow and turned back to her admirers, dismissing Sarah.

Lady Beldon puffed up to the group with George behind her. "I refuse to stay another night in a town where murders occur on every street corner," she breathed. "I am going home tomorrow, whether you come or not, George."

"So soon? But I told you I must see my solicitor." This was awful news for Sarah.

"And meet your death no doubt, Sarah. No, no, no, no," Lady Beldon shook her head. "You had best come home with me."

"I can't." Worse, Sarah could not stay at Beldon House alone with George.

"Stay with me, dear Sarah," Corina offered. "I do not return to languish in Bath for a week,".

"Thank you," Sarah sighed. She felt an elbow in her back. "I wonder why we come," she said to George. "No one can even dance."

"Everyone who is anyone is here," Corina snapped. "Perhaps even your disreputable Mr. Davinoff, Kerseymere. Why Sarah, whatever is the matter?"

"Did you say Davinoff is here?" Sarah managed. Her throat had unaccountably closed.

"Upcott, take her arm, I think she is about to faint in this crush," Corina ordered. "I hardly thought to bring on a spell by the mere mention of rakes. Kerseymere here was just telling me that Mrs. Hertford may have given him a card, even with all the stories."

"What stories?" Lady Beldon asked sharply.

"Word has it he was the root of the Marquise Barone's suicide in Paris last year," Kerseymere disclosed. "Her husband called him out. Dashed cool customer had a tailor present at the duel. Fellow got two orders for coats, with fabric and cut, while Davinoff paced his fifteen. After he killed the husband, he left the Marquise flat. She was a suicide the next morning."

Could he be here? She might bump into him at any second.

"Shall I take you for some air, Sarah?" George asked. "After seeing that dreadful murder tonight, any lady of sensibility would be distraught."

Lady Beldon turned to greet a dowager whose turban had even more feathers than her own.

"I am quite fine." Sarah glanced around wildly. Her heart was skipping beats.

"I say, what murder is this?" Sir Kelston pounced upon George's revelation. "One of those where the body is drained of blood?" The crowd in their circle of conversation grew.

"The very same. I go to Bow Street tomorrow as a consultant." George smiled with satisfaction. "My new device may have a bearing on the case." A hue and cry of questions began from several of Corina's young men.

"Who could be committing these murders?" Corina interrupted.

"The magistrates believe a madman is involved," George announced, with an harrumph.

"Could draining blood be sane?" Sarah murmured, scanning the crowd. What would he look like, her persecutor?

"I shall experiment to see if a pump might have pulled the blood from the body." This drew clamors for information on George's role in the investigation. George held forth.

Corina began to tap her foot impatiently. Sarah knew her expression. George was monopolizing attention Corina felt rightfully belonged to her. Corina turned to her escort. "Let us go and see the murder scene, Sir Kelston."

"Dash it, no, Madam!" Kelston was shocked. "What man would take a lady into danger?"

"I'll wager Mr. Kerseymere and his friends will go there yet tonight." Corina turned a pretty pout toward her young escort, then back to the crowd. "Won't you, you rogues?"

Several pairs of eyes gleamed with excitement.

"I would not take your wager, Madam," Kelston returned, after glancing round. "But that does not mean that I will take you there!"

Corina glanced into one of the gigantic mirrors to catch her reflection, then yelped and turned into the room. Sarah followed her eyes to a dark form at the edge of the crowd, like a black bird of prey among the gaudy peacocks. He was so tall even Sarah could see him. Her vision trembled. Classic profile, high cheekbones, long straight nose. His black coat was cut by the best of tailors, not English, though. The soft curls at his neck and the comma of black hair that strayed over his forehead gave him a boyish look. As he turned, she saw the sensual lips that promised secret knowledge. He was the personification of anarchy from tonight's murder scene.

"Sir Kelston, whoever is that man in black?" Corina caught at her escort's arm.

Kelston looked dismayed. "Davinoff has procured an invitation after all."

Sarah's knees went weak. She grabbed George's elbow for support. Of course! The chaos of murder in London and the chaos likely to engulf her life if Clershing was lost seemed to merge into a single pinprick of light illuminating a man called Julien Davinoff. The face of iniquity on the streets of London and the force of evil that threatened her future were one and the same. She raised a hand to her forehead, feeling alternately faint and flushed.

"Of course that would be him," she whispered. George drifted away to tell more responsive guests about his new device. Sarah had eyes only for the harbinger of chaos.

"What a quiz he is," Corina laughed, "all in black. How have I never encountered him?"

"I expect he doesn't run in your circles, Mrs. Nandalay." Kerseymere laughed.

Sarah let her eyes follow the dark man as he spoke to a fellow in the group surrounding George. They were talking about the murders, no doubt. Others were pushed and jostled by the crowd. But not he. The crowd swirled around him. He seemed distracted. He scanned the room for something or someone. Sarah felt his gaze brush her and it burned.

"You must introduce me to our rake, Sir Kelston," Corina murmured, behind her. Sarah glanced over to see that Corina was fascinated, too. Her friend had no time for her admirers now.

"But no, Madam—it is not an introduction you would enjoy. He is an evil man!"

"You have already denied me one opportunity for excitement tonight," Corina pouted. Corina and Sarah both watched as Davinoff made his way toward a ravishing woman wearing an oriental-collared brocade, lavishly embroidered. He bent and whispered into her ear. Her eyes searched his in shock. She grasped his arms, frantic, shaking her head. Davinoff was implacable. Suddenly the woman drooped. She almost fell before the tall man grasped her elbow. Sarah could not help but wonder what he had told her.

"Come, you are not afraid of this man, surely Sir Kelston?" Corina asked, rapt. Sarah turned back to her friend. What game was she playing?

"I should think not," Kelston replied indignantly, then stopped. Corina had him.

"What can happen in a room full of people?" Corina placed her lace-gloved hand on Kelston's arm and looked up, expectant.

Kelston sighed. "I hope you have no male relative present, Mrs. Nandalay, who would take me to task for the deed I am about to perform."

"None whatever, your Lordship. I am my own mistress."

Corina and Kelston maneuvered through the crowd toward the man in black, leaving Sarah and the others to stare after them. Corina was on the hunt. And her target tonight was Sarah's persecutor. Sarah gathered her courage. Her target must be Davinoff, too. Perhaps she could find out some detail of the brute's claim against her land. She pushed after Corina.

"Mr. Davinoff, allow me to introduce Madam Corina Nandalay ," she heard Kelston say as she approached. Davinoff at close range was a frightening man. His eyes were black pools of dreadful knowledge, his form a study in languid power. Sarah tore her eyes away with difficulty. They came to rest on his beautiful companion. She heard Kelston stutter, "Countess Vadim..."

Corina curtsied just in front of Sarah, her eyes never leaving the woman's face. The soul-engulfing need still emanating from the Countess was evident. Corina would be drawn by that need. It would make her want the object of it all the more.

"His Lordship provides his introduction at my request," Corina said lightly.

Davinoff's eyes flicked over her. "Perhaps you do not know my reputation." His voice was a deep rumble, utterly masculine, used to command. Sarah shuddered.

"No, Sir Kelston was careful in his duties on that point." Kelston reddened beside Corina, but her quarry did not even glance in his direction.

"Yes? Then you are, perhaps, an unusual female." The woman at his side came to life, her eyes sparking in Corina's direction.

"I have been told as much," Corina agreed. She glowed with a dangerous radiance.

Sarah stepped up beside Corina and saw her frown at the unwelcome intrusion. She did not like to be disturbed at the hunt. Sarah didn't care. "May I present Sarah Ashton, Lady Clevancy?" Kelston murmured, throwing to the wind all reservations about introducing young women to the notorious rake.

"Ah, the owner of Clershing," Davinoff eyed her gown with an almost imperceptible flicker of distaste. Sarah's color heightened. She raised her chin half an inch.

"Who are you?" Sarah asked. Perhaps not a propitious means of introducing her topic.

"Your neighbor," Davinoff nodded, a contemptuous smile just visible at the corner of his lips. Still, some curiosity lurked behind his eyes. "I look forward to the time when Clershing runs again with Thornbury Abbey."

"No one owns Thornbury Abbey," Sarah sputtered.

"I am desolate to disagree with you," Davinoff observed.

"I don't know what you think you can get away with, but I have no intention of letting Clershing run with the Abbey." Sarah trembled with emotion.

"How final. But there is always a way to get what one wants." The brute seemed amused.

"Not always," Sarah said between clenched teeth. "You may be mistaken."

"That would certainly be surprising." Davinoff bowed. He seemed taken aback by Sarah's vehemence. How could he be so maddeningly sure of himself? "Who knows what time will bring?"

"How true." Corina inserted herself into the conversation. "But one thing time brings is never a surprise. Time always brings death." She cast about for a way to interest him. "I saw you conversing, Sir, with Mr. Upcott's circle. You have no doubt heard there was another murder."

"I heard."

"Mr. Davinoff is not unfamiliar with these murders," Sarah said in a low voice, watching him. "You were present at the scene of the murder tonight, were you not?"

He looked down to search her face. "One hates to admit a fascination with the macabre. You have caught me out, Lady Clevancy."

"I don't hate to admit it at all," Corina said, glaring at Sarah as though to announce a prior claim to her quarry. "I have only now been pressing Kelston here to take me to the scene."

"It seems we have much in common then. It is unfortunate that we will not have an opportunity to pursue our acquaintance." He swept his eyes over Corina, Sarah, and even the Countess Vadim. "I leave London tomorrow."

The Countess's bleak expression said that this was the whispered confidence. He was leaving her. She touched her throat, covered so strangely with that oriental collar.

"Where are you bound, Mr. Davinoff?" Corina boldly ignored the Countess and Sarah.

"My plans are not set." Those horrible, wonderful eyes swept the crowd.

"If you own land near Bath, perhaps that should be your destination. My own estate, Chambroke, is near Bath. How is it we have not seen you in those parts?"

"Bath..." he seemed to consider. "How common a name compared to Aquae Sulis." He came to himself. "I have not lived there for many years."

"But you must remember how beautiful the country is this time of year," Corina rushed on, oblivious of any but her quarry. "As for society, my own estates attract a small but select guest list. The hunting is tolerable, if you are hunt-mad."

"Perhaps I cannot avoid Bath," he drawled, and glanced to Sarah. Sarah thought she might melt. Unaccountably, she did not want to see Corina at the hunt any more.

"Then I shall expect to see you," Corina said, a tiny note of triumph in her voice.

"Perhaps." He committed nothing. "Excuse me. I have business yet tonight."

And he was gone, cutting once more through furtive glances and murmurs toward the great double doors, leaving the Countess to drift after him, her handkerchief to her mouth.

"Well, I must say, you were very bold," Sir Kelston reproached Corina.

"I hope so," Corina murmured, gazing toward the giant doors. "For the course I have set requires boldness." She spun on Sarah. "What's this about Clershing?"

"He contests my ownership." Sarah gazed after Davinoff, stomach churning.

"Well, you were certainly rude," Corina admonished. Then she turned her smile on her escort. "Sir Kelston, I am afraid I have quite a headache. I find I must retire immediately."

"But, but the evening has hardly begun, I thought ..." Sir Kelston stuttered

Corina glanced to the doorway. "I can see you want to stay. I shall call for the carriage."

Kelston applied to Sarah. "Tell Mrs. Nandalay that her plan is out of the question."

Sarah roused herself. "I never tell Mrs. Nandalay anything is out of the question."

"I could not allow you to go home alone," Kelston announced stiffly.

"I shan't be alone," Corina confided. With that she whirled and hurried through the crowd, Kelston sputtering behind her. She would get Davinoff to take her home, Sarah knew.

SACRAMENT by Susan Squires

St. Martin's Paperbacks
April 2007
ISBN: 0312941021

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