SPOTLIGHT: To Tempt The Devil by C.J. Archer
He’s dark and dangerous…and she can’t stay away…
Seven years have passed since Rafe Fletcher fled London. Now he has returned to make amends, only to find his brother, James, bound for debtors’ prison. Unable to clear James’s debts, Rafe does the next best thing, promising to watch over his brother’s betrothed in his absence. There’s just one problem: the shy, sweet girl he once knew has grown into an alluring young woman—one who wants absolutely nothing to do with a man like him.
Lizzy Croft isn’t fooled by Rafe’s dark good looks; she remembers all too well the hot-headed rogue he once was. But when Lizzy is framed for murder, she has no choice but to trust the man who once beat his brutish stepfather half to death, the man whose recent past is shrouded in mystery—the man who is slowly, inexorably winning her heart. Loving him would be the greatest risk of all…
This is the scene where the hero and heroine meet. The heroine, Lizzy, is telling her betrothed, James, that the master of revels, Gripp, may shut down the theatre company she works for in London (she's a seamstress). Then the hero walks in.
“You believe Gripp will force the company’s closure?” he asked.
“Walter Gripp is a vindictive man and he has the power to do it. There is nothing and no one standing in his way.”
“Want me to kill him for you?” The voice came from behind her. It was deep and low, quiet yet commanding. The sort of voice that belonged to men in control, respected men who didn’t need to shout to get attention.
She recognized it although she hadn’t heard it in many years. She felt cold through to her bones even as a warm flush crept up her neck.
“He’s jesting,” James said.
Lizzy didn’t turn around but she could feel Rafe’s presence the way an anvil feels a hammer’s blow.
“Lizzy, you remember my brother,” James went on. “Rafe. Rafe Fletcher,” he added, perhaps to remind her that the brothers had different fathers. He’d left London suddenly on that terrible day when their mother died. Lizzy had no idea where he’d gone or what he’d been doing, because she’d never asked James and he’d never offered the information. Indeed, he rarely mentioned his brother at all and never discussed the incident that had led to his departure. But Lizzy hadn’t forgotten him. Rafe Fletcher was not the sort of man a girl, or indeed anyone, could forget.
And now he was back.
She forced herself to turn, but she couldn’t bring herself to look up at Rafe’s face. She stared at his boots instead. They were good boots. Sturdy with scuff marks on the toes and…was that a bloodstain?
She suppressed a gasp but not a shiver.
“Light the fire,” Rafe said. “She’s cold.”
James hesitated, then did his brother’s bidding. Lizzy clasped her hands in front of her and kept her gaze down. Her insides roiled and surely her face must be the color of burning coals. It felt hot enough. She tightened her grip on her fingers.
“I doubt you remember me,” Rafe said above her. Far, far above her. “You were still a child when I left.”
Seven years ago, she’d been fourteen, hardly a child. She wished she could tell him that, but she just nodded instead. She’d tried so hard to leave the shy, speechless girl behind, yet here she was again with her flushed cheeks and twisted tongue. So much for all the practice she’d put in over the years. While the actors worked on remembering their lines, she’d studied them: the way they spoke to one another, what they said, when they laughed or teased or offered a sympathetic frown. She’d forced herself to imitate them when she’d rather have sat in the corner and hidden behind her sewing. Eventually she’d felt confident enough to put her observations into practice. Tentatively at first, then more often and with more people. It had worked. Old acquaintances commented on how she’d emerged from her shell, and new ones were none the wiser. None suspected the amount of effort and time she’d put into remaking herself.
But Rafe Fletcher had stripped all that hard work away as if it were merely a layer of the thinnest silk. And she hadn’t even looked at him yet.
“So do you?” he asked. “Want me to kill this Gripp for you?”
“Rafe,” James warned. “Stop teasing her.”
“Who said I was teasing?”