Home > A Week to Be Wicked (Spindle Cove #2)

A Week to Be Wicked (Spindle Cove #2)
Author: Tessa Dare

Chapter One

When a girl trudged through the rain at midnight to knock at the Devil’s door, the Devil should at least have the depravity—if not the decency—to answer.

Minerva gathered the edges of her cloak with one hand, weathering another cold, stinging blast of wind. She stared in desperation at the closed door, then pounded it with the flat of her fist.

“Lord Payne,” she shouted, hoping her voice would carry through the thick oak planks. “Do come to the door! It’s Miss Highwood.” After a moment’s pause, she clarified, “Miss Minerva Highwood.”

Rather nonsensical, that she needed to state just which Miss Highwood she was. From Minerva’s view, it ought to be obvious. Her younger sister, Charlotte, was an exuberant yet tender fifteen years of age. And the eldest of the family, Diana, possessed not only angelic beauty, but the disposition to match. Neither of them were at all the sort to slip from bed at night, steal down the back stairs of the rooming house, and rendezvous with an infamous rake.

But Minerva was different. She’d always been different. Of the three Highwood sisters, she was the only dark-haired one, the only bespectacled one, the only one who preferred sturdy lace-up boots to silk slippers, and the only one who cared one whit about the difference between sedimentary and metamorphic rocks.

The only one with no prospects, no reputation to protect.

Diana and Charlotte will do well for themselves, but Minerva? Plain, bookish, distracted, awkward with gentlemen. In a word, hopeless.

The words of her own mother, in a recent letter to their cousin. To make it worse, Minerva hadn’t discovered this description by snooping through private correspondence. Oh, no. She’d transcribed the words herself, penning them at Mama’s dictation.

Truly. Her own mother.

The wind caught her hood and whisked it back. Cold rain pelted her neck, adding injury to insult.

Swiping aside the hair matted to her cheek, Minerva stared up at the ancient stone turret—one of four that comprised the Rycliff Castle keep. Smoke curled from the topmost vent.

She raised her fist again, pounding at the door with renewed force. “Lord Payne, I know you’re in there.”

Vile, teasing man.

Minerva would root herself to this spot until he let her in, even if this cold spring rain soaked her to the very marrow. She hadn’t climbed all this distance from the village to the castle, slipping over mossy outcroppings and tracing muddy rills in the dark, just to trudge the same way back home, defeated.

However, after a solid minute of knocking to no avail, the fatigue of her journey set in, knotting her calf muscles and softening her spine. Minerva slumped forward. Her forehead met wood with a dull thunk. She kept her fist lifted overhead, beating on the door in an even, stubborn rhythm. She might very well be plain, bookish, distracted, and awkward—but she was determined. Determined to be acknowledged, determined to be heard.

Determined to protect her sister, at any cost.

Open, she willed. Open. Open. Op—

The door opened. Swiftly, with a brisk, unforgiving whoosh.

“For the love of tits, Thorne. Can’t it wait for—”

“Ack.” Caught off balance, Minerva stumbled forward. Her fist rapped smartly against—not the door, but a chest.

Lord Payne’s chest. His masculine, muscled, shirtless chest, which proved only slightly less solid than a plank of oak. Her blow landed square on his flat, male nipple, as though it were the Devil’s own door-knocker.

At least this time, the Devil answered.

“Well.” The dark word resonated through her arm. “You’re not Thorne.”

“Y-you’re not clothed.” And I’m touching your bare chest. Oh . . . Lord.

The mortifying thought occurred to her that he might not be wearing trousers either. She righted herself. As she removed her spectacles with chilled, trembling fingers, she caught a reassuring smudge of dark wool below the flesh-colored blur of his torso. She huffed a breath on each of the two glass discs connected by brass, wiped the mist from them with a dry fold of her cloak lining, and then replaced them on her face.

He was still half naked. And now, in perfect focus. Devious tongues of firelight licked over every feature of his handsome face, defining him.

“Come in, if you mean to.” He winced at a blast of frost-tipped wind. “I’m shutting the door, either way.”

She stepped forward. The door closed behind her with a heavy, finite sound. Minerva swallowed hard.

“I must say, Melinda. This is rather a surprise.”

“My name’s Minerva.”

“Yes, of course.” He cocked his head. “I didn’t recognize your face without the book in front of it.”

She exhaled, letting her patience stretch. And stretch. Until it expanded just enough to accommodate a teasing rake with a sieve-like memory. And stunningly well-defined shoulders.

“I’ll admit,” he said, “this is hardly the first time I’ve answered the door in the middle of night and found a woman waiting on the other side. But you’re certainly the least expected one yet.” He sent her lower half an assessing look. “And the most muddy.”

She ruefully surveyed her mud-caked boots and bedraggled hem. A midnight seductress she was not. “This isn’t that kind of visit.”

“Give me a moment to absorb the disappointment.”

“I’d rather give you a moment to dress.” Minerva crossed the round chamber of windowless stone and went straight for the hearth. She took her time tugging loose the velvet ties of her cloak, then draped it over the room’s only armchair.

Payne hadn’t wasted the entirety of his months here in Spindle Cove, it seemed. Someone had put a great deal of work into transforming this stone silo into a warm, almost comfortable home. The original stone hearth had been cleaned and restored to working order. In it blazed a fire large and fierce enough to do a Norman warrior proud. In addition to the upholstered armchair, the circular room contained a wooden table and stools. Simple, but well made.

No bed.

Strange. She swiveled her gaze. Didn’t an infamous rake need a bed?

Finally, she looked up. The answer hovered overhead. He’d fashioned a sort of sleeping loft, accessible by a ladder. Rich drapes concealed what she assumed to be his bed. Above that, the stone walls spiraled into black, cavernous nothingness.

Minerva decided she’d given him ample time to find a shirt and make himself presentable. She cleared her throat and slowly turned. “I’ve come to ask—”

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