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DescriptionTo save her true love, she must sacrifice her own heart.
Tessa Ryder's Gift, which allows her to take the form of anyone she touches, was invaluable to the British Army's secret Omega Group. The Peninsula War is over, the Omegas are disbanded, but she's learned of a plot to exterminate them—and free Napoleon.
Desperate to warn Sebastian Montague, one of the few remaining Omegas, Tessa takes on the guise of his ex-mistress. It's the only way she can face the man she loved. The man whose memory of her was telepathically wiped—at her request.
Sebastian knows a lie when he sees one, and it doesn't take long to strip the disguise of the unfamiliar woman he believes is his assassin. But before he can use his formidable Gift for illusion to wring the truth from her, bullets fly and they are both on the run.
Surrounded by traitors and spies, Tessa and Sebastian fight to thwart the scheme to plunge England back into the darkness of war. And, as their powerful attraction brings them closer and closer, Tessa fights to protect the man she still loves more than life—by keeping the secret of their shared history buried deep in her heart.
Warning: This book contains sexy war heroes, submarines, bedrooms on fire, an evil Frenchman, and a shape-shifting heroine who will stop at nothing to protect her true love.
Reader Rating: Not rated (0 Ratings)
Sensuality Rating: Not rated
Excerpt:Copyright © 2012 Lily Lang
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
When Jane Cameron returned from her afternoon ride in the park, Tessa was ready for her.
As soon as the bedroom door clicked shut and London’s most celebrated actress untied her bonnet strings, Tessa stepped out from behind the heavy blue curtains that had concealed her and raised her pistol.
“Sit down, if you please,” she said, gesturing with her free hand to the gilt and white dressing table.
Jane froze, her blue eyes widening as she turned to look at Tessa.
“Now,” said Tessa, cocking the pistol.
Jane’s hands dropped immediately from her bonnet. She stepped quickly across the thick Persian rugs that carpeted the floor and sat down.
She did not remove her frightened gaze from Tessa.
“Drink the tea,” said Tessa, indicating the small blue cup that sat in the center of the table.
Jane picked it up hesitantly. “Poison?” she asked.
“Drink,” said Tessa again.
She did not allow her voice to tremble, though her heart pounded a thick, slow rhythm and the palm grasping the pistol felt slippery with sweat.
She hated what she was doing. She preferred quieter, more subtle methods than confrontation. Disguising herself as a maid, perhaps. An option she had certainly considered.
But she was running out of time. She needed to find Sebastian tonight.
When Jane continued to stare at her, Tessa crossed the chamber as well and pressed the barrel of the pistol against the actress’s forehead.
“I told you to drink,” she said very quietly.
Jane raised the teacup to her lips and drank. When the cup was empty, she set it back down on the saucer with hands that trembled.
“Who are you?” Jane asked. Her voice wavered. Tears gathered in her large, darkly lashed eyes and trickled down her lovely porcelain face. “Why are you doing this?”
Tessa ignored her. Instead, she counted the minutes.
“Please,” said Jane.
Tessa hesitated. She could not help resenting the actress, but terrorizing another woman was not precisely on her itinerary. Jane was merely a means to an end, and Tessa had little stomach for cruelty.
“It’s only a sleeping draught,” she said at last. “You will not be harmed. I have no desire to kill you.”
“But why?” Jane whispered. “I don’t understand. What have I done to you?”
Tessa did not respond.
Another ten minutes passed before the actress’s lashes drooped, her eyes growing unfocused, her mouth going slack. She made a visible effort to stay conscious, but the sleeping draught that Tessa had procured from the apothecary was too strong.
“You may rise and get into bed, if you like,” said Tessa. “It might be more comfortable for you.”
Jane staggered to her feet, swaying like a drunkard as she made her way across the room. Tessa kept her pistol trained on the other woman, but it was unnecessary. The draught worked its effect, and Jane did not so much climb into her bed as fall upon it.
A moment later, she was unconscious.
Tessa waited another five minutes to be absolutely certain. Then she crossed to the bed and rested her fingertips lightly against Jane’s left palm.
The searing pain began, as it always began, the moment she opened her mind to the transformation.
At first she did not fight it. Resting her fingertips lightly against Jane’s left palm, Tessa closed her eyes and absorbed the patterns of the woman’s skin and flesh and bones. Absorbed, too, the faint whispers of the woman’s mind and memories.
Life’s but a walking shadow, a tale told by an idiot…the sound of thunderous applause from her vantage point on the stage of the Theatre Royal…the smiling faces, in rapid succession, the rainbow of costumes she’d worn through the years…and finally, for one brief second, a glimpse of the small, filthy hovel in which the woman had had been raised, aflame against the darkness of a summer night.
Beneath the onslaught of memory and emotion, Tessa flinched and nearly recoiled. She wanted nothing more than to pull away, to escape the mold her mind created for her body, to retain the integrity of her own being. To remain herself.
She could not do this. She should not have come here, to London, and entered this house under false pretenses, to steal the face and form of a woman she had never met. To do so was a betrayal of her father, who was old and tired and sick, and how could she bear it if he should die because of her actions?
But even as the question rose in her mind, the answer was already there.
She could not betray England, her country.
She could not betray Sebastian, the man she had loved for ten years.
Knowing that this was what she must do was all that made the excruciating agony bearable. Tessa forced herself to draw the air slowly and steadily into her lungs. It was only physical pain, she told herself. She had survived worst.
But she had forgotten how blinding the pain could be. It had been six years since she had last transformed, in the blood-red light of a fierce, dense sun, setting over a battlefield strewn with British dead. Then, as now, it had been for England and the man she loved.
The transformation, like the pain, began in her heart, then radiated slowly outwards to her limbs, her hands, the tips of her fingers, borne through the currents of her blood stream and the marrow of her bones. Her entire body lengthened and stretched, the pain intensifying as her joints shattered and reformed, and every cell rearranged itself.
Though a fire roared in the grated hearth of the woman’s lushly appointed bedchamber, the familiar, uncontrollable cold now gripped Tessa in its icy fingers, squeezing so tightly she could not breathe.
And then, when she thought she could bear it no longer, it was over. Breathing too fast and hard, she allowed her trembling hand to drop to her side. Without warning, her new knees gave way, and she fell to the floor, landing in an untidy heap on one of the tiger-skin rugs scattered across the Persian carpet.
For a long moment Tessa lay unmoving. The fire was warm on her unfamiliar skin, the room silent save for the crackling flames and her own harsh breathing. Thoughts that were not her own fluttered through her mind like caged birds, beating their wings against the inside of her skull. Too tired to fight them, she closed her eyes and remained still.
It was because of the tightness of both her shoes and her bodice that she managed to struggle upright. Her fingers trembled so badly she fumbled for several moments before finally plucking her pocket knife out of her dress pocket and slicing through the knotted shoelaces.
The feet that she pulled from the mangled shoes were long, graceful and high-arched. This did not surprise her. The woman whose face she had stolen was the most beautiful woman that Tessa had ever seen; it seemed only right that her feet were perfect as well.
She sliced through the bodice of her dress also, peeling the coarse, cheap material away from her skin. Pain shot through her feet and up her legs as she shed her gown and made her way across the room toward the high, sumptuous bed where Jane lay slumped across a silk counterpane, her long, curling hair, the color of flame or sunset, spilling in a waterfall nearly to the floor.
Tessa turned away from her.
Picking up an ice-blue silk robe that lay crumpled in a ball at the foot of the bed, Tessa pulled the delicate, expensive material over her shoulders and knotted the belt at the waist. Then she padded barefoot over to the wardrobe. With each step she took the pain that shot through her feet and legs lessened, as though her nerves had finally grown accustomed to the form her body had taken.
Through the bedroom’s open windows, she could see the dark-green shadow of Dorset Square. The elegant townhouse stood to the south of the small park in a quiet, wealthy neighborhood of west London, not far from Regent’s Park.
Tessa could not stop herself from reaching out a hesitant hand to touch the furnishings—rich velvet and polished mahogany, shiny brocade and sumptuous furs, the thick pile of the Persian carpet beneath her feet. The many textures were a pure tactile pleasure. This elegant room was a far cry from the dozens of freezing, flea-ridden bivouacs she had shared with her father for seven years on the Peninsula, or even the small, crumbling cottage they now inhabited at Wycombe.
When she reached the wardrobe she pulled open the double doors and stared at a rainbow of silks, satins and velvets. Riding gowns made in hunter green and scarlet velvet, ball gowns in vivid blues, a fox fur of the softest, deepest black. Reaching out a hesitant finger, Tessa touched each gown with wonder. She had never seen such beautiful clothes, had never owned anything even half as fine as the plainest morning gown. A life spent following the drums left little room for luxury.
She glanced back again at the woman lying on the bed. Jane twitched a little in her chloroform-induced dreams, then emitted a soft and not entirely pleasant snore. Gems glittered at her fingers and her fine white throat.
After a moment’s indecision, Tessa selected a snowy-white evening gown and spread it carefully across one of the chaise lounges near the hearth. She also found slippers and a beaded reticule to match. Rummaging through several drawers produced a pair of long gloves and silk stockings.
In Tessa’s own form, the thin material of the white ball gown would have hung like a sack, but the dress fell gracefully over her new and unfamiliar curves, the tiny sleeves and low bodice framing the magnificent décolletage to perfection. The silk stockings slid smoothly up her legs; Tessa had never felt anything so luxurious, and she shut her eyes for a moment against the pure tactile pleasure of it.
Setting aside the gloves for now, she sat down at the Venetian dressing table. Perfume bottles, powders and brushes crowded the painted surface of the table, along with several large bouquets of fragrant, expensive hothouse flowers. A beautifully carved wooden box overflowed with glittering jewels. Tessa knew very little of jewels, but she suspected whatever Jane Cameron owned would be paste.
A thick, untidy stack of papers balanced precariously on one corner of the table. Tessa moved aside a tiny pot of cream to read the top sheet.
It was a playbill for the previous week. 25 June 1818, Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. MACBETH, with MISS CAMERON as Lady Macbeth. Several other playbills followed, all featuring Jane in leading roles. There were also a few love letters written in a variety of masculine hands. With trembling fingers, Tessa scanned each one, but none bore the familiar signature she both hoped to find and feared seeing.
Tessa pushed the pile of papers aside, lifting her gaze slowly to the gilt-framed mirror to stare at the face that was not hers. But then, it had been a long time since she had looked into a mirror and seen her own reflection, for there was no looking-glass in the cottage at Wycombe.
Sometimes, she couldn’t remember what she looked like at all.
The face that stared back at her was flawless. Jane Cameron’s coloring alone was perfection—deep, electric-blue eyes set against ghostly white skin; a luxurious mantle of red-gold, curling hair that fell well past her narrow waist. Her features were so pure and lovely that she hardly seemed human. Instead, she seemed to have been carved of marble by the hand of a Renaissance sculptor inspired by some divine being.
Tessa gazed blindly at the false reflection. What would it be like to be a woman such as this? Rich—beautiful—courted—wearing only the finest clothes and jewels—eating only the finest food?
What would it be like to be Sebastian’s mistress?
The ImpostorBy: Lily Lang