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His naked, sculpted chest gleamed in the candlelight. His shoulders, broad and muscled, narrowed to a hard waist and flat belly. He was tall enough to make her feel small, although she wasn't, particularly. His gray eyes watched her as intently as she watched him. She didn't want to miss a thing — not the way his tousled dark hair hung over his brow, not the way his chest rose and fell with his quickening breaths.
Especially not the way his sweat-dampened breeches clung to powerful thighs that were already braced to receive her advance. She knew his form well, knew the feel of him, the shape of him. Yet there was always more to learn. Rose couldn't blink, couldn't look away. Her eyes became her only conduit to him as she shut out everything else. There was no London, no England, no war. There was only this man — this beautiful, half-naked man who gazed at her with such intensity. She stepped closer. She mustn't seem too eager, nor too nonchalant.
If she was to fulfill her wish here in this dimly lit room, she must play wisely and well. His chest swelled as he inhaled and the golden glow from the candles played like music over his hot and rippling body.
He exhaled in a rush. As he moved toward her, she spread her knees and readied herself. Her patience had repaid her, for as he wrapped his arms about her —.
Collis Tremayne lay there, gasping back the breath that had been knocked from him by the fall. Rose Lacey, former housemaid turned spy trainee, only cocked her head down at her opponent and folded her arms. The hand-to-hand combat trainer stepped forward and grunted. Kurt was the premier assassin of the Liar's Club, the band of Crown spies that operated behind the facade of a gambling hell that stood opposite the school.
Who would ever have thought it? Assassins and spies had become everyday associates of Rose's ever since the day she'd been liberated from her former position and installed as the first woman ever to be trained to be a Liar. Kurt, who also cooked for the mixed band of gentlemen and street thieves that made up the Liars, was very, very good with puff pastry and anything bladed and sharp. Ever a man of few words, the scarred giant turned his back and returned to his place along the wall. The weapons training room, or the arena, as Kurt had dubbed it, was the largest portion of the cellar of an unassuming building in a not-quite-respectable area of London.
Of course, it no longer resembled a place for storing root vegetables and casks of ale. Pity about that ale. Rose wiped perspiration from her face with the back of her forearm. She truly could use a pint about now. Currently the stone walls were adorned with racks of weapons and other training accoutrements. Against one wall stood a rack of straw-stuffed canvas figures that served as the enemy for students too likely to kill one another accidentally. She herself had graduated from dummies very quickly, thank you very much.
Fortunately, there was plenty of room for errors, as the great space was broken only by six thick oak foundation pillars that supported the building above. Alarmingly painted targets adorned another wall, while above it all hung a rather medieval candleholder that reminded Rose of the giant oaken cranks that had once lifted a castle's drawbridge. It held forty candles or more, which she knew because she paid her board at the school by cleaning it as well. Most of the students lived at the school and did as she did.
Tiny bedchambers had been carved from the top-story attic. A bit cramped, it was true, but Rose felt the charm of her very own room more than made up for the lack of space.
And Kurt lived there, when he wasn't tending the kitchen of the other establishment. She glanced at him, awaiting further instructions. The giant instructor made all the other students lined up against the wall look like children. Some of them were, compared to her and Collis. They two were the oldest in the group by several years, having both come late to the school.
To those few who knew better, it was the Academy, the training ground for the most elite gang of thieves and spies ever in the service of the Crown — the Liar's Club. Rose and Collis, all of them, were the next generation of this mixed band of badness and bravery. A rumble came from Kurt. Rose nodded. She looked back down at her opponent.
Collis Tremayne, the stuff of a maiden's dreams. Even with one arm rendered useless Collis was a prime specimen of manhood. He was quite tall, making Rose feel like standing as straight as possible to make up for her own middling height. Some said he looked like the younger brother to his uncle, Lord Etheridge, and he did, in a literal way. Collis had the thick, nearly black Etheridge hair and the pale gray Etheridge eyes, though not as eerily silver as his uncle's.
Collis was far more high-spirited and playful than his uncle. Too playful by half, if anyone were asking Rose's opinion. Handsome, charming Collis was also the heir to the great fortune and title of Etheridge — and the bane of Rose's existence.
He'd caught his breath at last. Rose offered him a hand up. He grinned up at her. I might at least be paid for my troubles with a glimpse of those lovely ankles.
Rose snatched her hand back. Last fall. Rose wished Kurt hadn't told Collis that. It was her best clue. Collis was far stronger than she was, even with his disabled arm.
She was perhaps a hair quicker, but that was only from years of dodging blows and gropes from her employer and his son, Louis. Former employer, that is. Dead and gone now, and good riddance to the evil and traitorous Mr.
Edward Wadsworth. No longer was she a poor little housemaid, beaten for every petty or imagined offense. Nor would anyone ever beat her again. She was fast and she was smart, too smart to allow herself to be ill-treated evermore.
Rose pulled her mind from the past and set herself firmly into the present. There was only Collis. He tossed back the dampened lock clinging to his brow and she was put in mind of a sleek and spirited stallion. Magnificent, unbearable Collis He rushed her without any sort of warning. She had no time to sidestep, no time to react in any way but to shrink back. Old memories, old fears, old reactions took her over.
She ducked wildly, without reason. His attack bowled her over, tumbled her back —. And rolled him directly over her and flat onto the mat once more. It took a moment before Rose realized what had happened. She'd accidentally won. Collis had expected resistance, had expected a countermove. His speed and force had been so great that he'd done himself in, rather like swinging too hard at something that suddenly isn't there.
She looked up from her own crouch to see Kurt standing over them. Kurt's scarred and craggy face used to be difficult for Rose to look at directly, although now he seemed as familiar and comfortable as the shabby furnishings of the training arena.
The man only grunted once at Collis, although he sent Rose a piercing look that told her he had seen her instinctive cower. But Collis hadn't, thank heaven. Rose raised her chin, defying her own weakness. She shouldn't think about Collis as if he were an ordinary man, who might take the fancy of an ordinary girl.
She certainly shouldn't allow thoughts of him to distract her in the middle of training. Collis rolled over to stand, using his good arm to brace his rise from the mat. Rose took a step toward him, her hand out once more.
Collis's head came up as her next step rustled the straw-filled mat.
Added by 13 of our members. Collis Tremayne could make any female swoon; yet no one would guess the hidden desperation that drove him to become the most skilled spy in service to the Crown. All that stands in his way She is the only woman he cannot melt with his smile. With every breath, he wishes he never laid eyes on her. And with every flash of her green eyes, he craves to possess her Rose Lacey fought hard to meet the challenge of becoming a spy for the infamous Liars Club.
The Charmer (Liar's Club Series #4)
His naked, sculpted chest gleamed in the candlelight. His shoulders, broad and muscled, narrowed to a hard waist and flat belly. He was tall enough to make her feel small, although she wasn't, particularly. His gray eyes watched her as intently as she watched him.