There were a million and one details to planning one’s own assassination and Charlotte daren’t miss a single one, else find herself locked in the Tower of Londonium for the rest of her long and miserable life. While planting bribes all over Town to keep the Queen’s Ravens busy for months if not years attempting to track down her so-called assassin, she endured countless fittings on what would surely be the gown of the century. My death will be a remarkable spectacle, so naturally my gown must be as memorable.
With a critical eye, she examined her reflection in the tall mirrors, twirling slowly so she might see the fall of fabric from all angles. She’d chosen an eye-popping scarlet silk that would be scandalous in its own right. Combined with the severely tight corset and plunging neckline, she’d catch everyone’s attention from the moment she stepped outside her door.
The white feather accents were a touch too eccentric and ostentatious for her personal taste, but she intended to make a statement. If red represented the Razari blood, then white would remind the queen of House Wyre’s dove. The Queen’s Ravens might…would…tear Wyre apart, but Britannia would only see snowy pure white splattered with blood.
I’m far from innocent. My technology made all this possible. She forced herself to keep staring at her reflection, even though the sight made her throat burn with bile. I have to find a way to make this right. To stop Majel once and for all. But how?
Something jabbed into her side hard enough she stiffened.
“Lady Wyre, I presume?”
She recognized the man’s smooth, cultured voice and her heart beat ramped into deep-space full throttle. Since she intended to give Britannia a solstice eclipse celebration they’d not soon forget, she’d chosen the flashiest, most well-known assassin she could find. Lord Sigmund Regret was renowned throughout the galaxy as much for his impeccable manners and taste in clothing as for his murdering ability.
Even more importantly, he specialized in accepting detailed requirements in his contract for how the death should occur. Supposedly, he’d once killed a lady with her very own corset at her disgruntled lover’s request.
She stiffened her spine and stared coolly back at his reflection solidifying behind her. If he tries to kill me with my corset, he’ll be sorely surprised.
“You’re early, sir.”
As if she’d managed to surprise him, a small smile hovered on his lips but the pressure didn’t lessen against her ribcage. “Indeed, since this is a challenging assignment, I thought I’d best slip inside the Britannian grid early. I’m still not sure whether we’ll be able to slip out entirely undetected.”
She arched a brow at him. “That’s your concern, for which I’m paying you most handsomely.”
“You’re paying me to make it look like you’re dead, Your Grace.” He matched her arrogant, high-bred tone perfectly. “Sneaking you out of Britannia under Queen Majel’s nose is not my usual sort of job.”
“Well, it’s a very good thing you’re the best assassin for hire, then, yes?”
He chuckled, his bright blue eyes gleaming in the mirror with amusement, but his left hand casually wrapped around her throat. He didn’t apply pressure to her windpipe, but he made it very clear he could snuff her life out before she could open her mouth to scream.
Little does he know that screaming for help is not my forte.
“Perhaps I’m thinking the queen might pay me even more if I take care of her problem instead of helping you escape her wrath. It would certainly make it easier for me to escape Britannia intact.”
“If escape,” she said with a deliberate curl of distaste on her lips, “is your only concern, then perhaps you shouldn’t have been so foolish as to accept my payment, which enabled my sniffer to locate your private bank account.”
He opened his mouth, no doubt to retort that he had numerous such bank accounts, so she pushed on without giving him the chance.
“If you’d done your research on me beforehand, then you would know that I have a penchant for being extremely nosy and plotting with deliberate forethought to ensure my desired outcome. Of course, my sniffer has been busy backtracking to your other personal accounts as well. I’ve already located six such accounts scattered throughout the galaxy. If I don’t transmit the all-clear signal to my sniffer within twenty four hours, every single account you possess will suddenly be flagged for Britannian investigation. No doubt news of Lord Regret’s cowardly failure to uphold his contract as promised will be the talk of the galaxy for years to come.”
His jaws worked, his face darkened, and his eyes glittered with malice. “Maybe I’d simply enjoy killing you.”
She let a careless—if slightly breathy—laugh escape. “You’re welcome to try, sir, but I think you’ll find that you chose a most unlikely entrance for your knife.” He poked hard enough she grunted, but the blade couldn’t penetrate her corset. “Again, even modest research would have confirmed that I also enjoy experiments and inventions, especially ones that might save my life. I knew this event would be risky and so reinforced my corset with steel plating to protect my vital organs.”
He stepped close enough behind her that his heat penetrated the thin silk of her gown. His breath caressed her bared neck and ear. “Aren’t you afraid of me at all?”
“Yes, I am.” A frisson of awareness zinged down her spine. Danger, excitement, she wasn’t sure. As finely dressed as any Britannian lord, this man could be her contemporary in Society. If they’d met a few years ago, he might have been the one to convince her to surrender to matrimony. He certainly intrigued her like no one else she’d ever known. “But I’m more afraid of Queen Majel. I shan’t allow her to win. Fear makes me sharper, smarter, and all the more dangerous, Lord Regret.”
“Sigmund,” he sighed against her ear. His grip on her throat turned to a caress, a gentle glide of fingers that made her skin tingle. “You’re one hell of a woman, Your Grace.”
“Please call me Charlotte.” Holding his gaze in the mirror, she gave him a slow, sensuous smile that made his brilliant eyes flare. “I regret so many things. Saving Queen Majel’s life. The wretched things for which she’s allowing my research to be used. The millions of deaths on Razar. I don’t know how I’ll ever sleep again, worrying how many more planets will suffer the same demise. Once I’m free of Britannia, I’ll never be the Duchess of Wyre again, which I won’t regret in the slightest.”
“Call me Sig, and I’ll call you Charlie.” Winking at her in the mirror, he settled his palm lower on the creamy expanse of skin bared by her gown. “Your invention has a most regrettable design flaw. This corset fails to protect your heart.”
She laughed and stepped out of his embrace. “My heart needs no such protection. Come, then, Sig, and allow me to share the plans I’ve made thus far. I agree wholeheartedly that escape from Britannia will be the most challenging contract you’ve ever accepted. You won’t regret taking my case, will you?”
“I’ll have no regrets with you.”