The final book in Kerrigan Byrne’s magnificent Devil You Know series is out next week, and I have a sneak peek for you, courtesy of St. Martin’s Publishing Group. I’ve loved every single book in this series, and Francesca’s story did not disappoint. If you’re a fan of fabulously written Historical Romances full of suspense and intrigue, look no further than Kerrigan Byrne’s novels.
London, 1892; Twenty Years Later
Lady Francesca Cavendish glared at the naked man draped across the bed with disgust.
She would never live down this tryst. The ton would be in an uproar. Why would a woman as young, rich, and titled as she, bother with a creature as old and odious as Lord Colfax? they would ask. Can she really be so craven?
Was she being too obvious? Would her enemies guess what she was about?
Frowning, Francesca rolled her eyes and pulled a few more pins from her hair as she assessed her appearance in the gilded mirror of Lord Colfax’s bedchamber.
She just might look like a loose-moraled spinster who’d enjoyed a rollicking night of unbridled sex. Not, however, the kind of night other unfortunate women had reported to have had with Lord Colfax.
He was a famously passionate rake. A ruiner of clothing and reputations. A user of women and worse.
A man who deserved what he was about to get.
Pursing her lips, she let out a breath of exasperation. What could she change about her appearance to make the ruse more believable? Her gold bodice drooped in tatters, the lace mangled and torn. Her skirt was a puddle of silk on the carpets, and one of the ribbons on her garters had disappeared. Her scarlet coiffeur hung limply to the left, half the pins scattered or missing. She’d never really been able to hold a curl, so her locks appeared more garbled than tousled.
Still . . . it didn’t look right. She didn’t look right.
Puffing a bit of fringe away from her forehead, she shrugged a slim, pale shoulder. Old Colfax likely wouldn’t notice. Men were so extraordinarily oblivious. They’d believe just about any sort of hogwash if it fed their largely undeserved egos.
And yet . . . how could they not suspect her deception?
A woman’s skin glowed with dewy luminescence if she’d been well and truly ridden. Her eyes would laze at only half-mast, glistening with a dreamy satisfaction. Her lips were often swollen and the skin about her mouth a little pinkened as though scrubbed with something abrasive. Like a man’s stubble or beard.
Sometimes those marks were elsewhere. Her neck, her clavicles.
Francesca did her best to soften the gem-hard green of her eyes, to blink them with a slothful sort of decadence. There, that almost seemed like—
A loud snore shook the crystals twinkling from the wall sconces next to the stately bed.
She whirled, studying her so-called lover for signs of consciousness. Her heart gave a few kicks, threatening not to remain as steady as she’d trained it to be.
Lord Colfax was larger than most of the men with whom she played this sort of sport. Not tall, exactly. But wide and sturdy, strong despite his aging status. Not many men retained such strength into their fifties, but then again, he was part of a powerful and corrupt society.
One with many enemies.
It wouldn’t do to be seen as weak.
His mouth dropped open to reveal revolting, uneven teeth stained by every imaginable sort of vice. Francesca swallowed her revulsion and crept back toward the bed.
Her reflection would never truly seem right. No matter how much she scrubbed at her skin and bit at her lips. She never quite adopted that appearance of pleasure. She’d never been pleasured. Pleasure wasn’t something she had the time or inclination for, all told.
She supposed, in Lord Colfax’s case, she didn’t have to exactly seem as though he’d done well. Because men such as he only ever thought of their own pleasure.
She had to convince him that their night was one of sexual abandon he was too drunk to remember.
Her concoction of belladonna, senna, and a few other exotic herbs Serana could only procure from the Chinese tent city would wear off within the hour. A few drops rendered a person drowsy, susceptible to suggestion. She only had to whisper something in their ear to make it a memory before they sank into the nether.
And then, while her lovers slept, she discovered their secrets.
She already had Lord Colfax’s fate locked beneath her corset and in the trap of her brain. Her suspicion had been right. He was a toad, one who croaked for the Crimson Council, a secretive occult society only whispered about in the darkest corners. Their purpose was to use as much of their power, money, and influence as possible to spin the world to their whims.
Those whims had become increasingly sadistic. Sexual.
And possibly treasonous.
Evil enough to massacre everyone she’d ever loved. To slit the throats of children.
Her entire life, every decision she’d made, had brought her closer to finding them.
An old hatred rose within her, and Francesca had to swallow three times as it splashed the back of her throat with acid.
Lord Colfax had nothing to do with the Mont Claire Massacre, but he was guilty of other crimes. And was climbing the council ranks, adding to their influence with his political contacts. Feeding their corruption with his respected name and estates dripping with money.
While he’d been under the influence of her serum, Francesca slid into his library, his study, his escritoire, and anywhere else she could think of.
She found the documents indicting him for fixing the London mayoral elections in his study.
But another envelope burned against her skin, this one so much more valuable, pilfered from a lockbox beneath his bed.
An invitation to an event a few weeks hence. One signed personally by the Lord Chancellor, himself, and stamped with the seal of a three-headed serpent. This seal, she’d gleaned, was only used by the Triad. The three men at the lead of the Crimson Council.
She now had proof of this three-headed serpent. And Lord Cassius Gerard Ramsay—the man her best friend, Cecelia, was about to marry—had unwittingly taken one of the serpent’s heads when he’d arrested the Lord Chancellor.
Which left two. Unless she didn’t work quickly enough, and a third head grew to replace the one they’d lost.
Next to her, Lord Colfax stirred.
Copyright © 2021 by Kerrigan Byrne. Reprinted with permission of St. Martin’s Publishing Group.