Passion for the Game - Sylvia Day

Chapter 1

“I f all angels of death were as lovely as you, men would line up to die.”

Maria, Lady Winter, shut the lid of her enameled patch box with a decisive snap. Her revulsion for the mirrored reflection of the man who sat behind her made her stomach roil. Taking a deep breath, she kept her gaze trained on the stage below, but her attention was riveted by the incomparably handsome man who sat in the shadows of her theater box.

“Your turn will come,” she murmured, maintaining her regal façade for the benefit of the many lorgnettes pointed in her direction. She had worn crimson silk tonight, accented by delicate black lace frothing from elbow-length sleeves. It was her most-worn color. Not because it suited her Spanish heritage coloring so well —dark hair, dark eyes, olive skin—but because it was a silent warning. Bloodshed. Stay away.

The Wintry Widow, the voyeurs whispered. Two husbands dead…and counting.

Angel of death. How true that was. Everyone around her died, except for the man she cursed to Hades.

The low chuckle at her shoulder made her skin crawl. “It will take more than you, my dearest daughter, to see me to my reward.”

“Your reward will be my blade in your heart,” she hissed.

“Ah, but then you will never be reunited with your sister, and she almost of age.”

“Do not think to threaten me, Welton. Once Amelia is wed, I will know her location and will have no further need for your life. Consider that before you think to do to her what you have done to me.”

“I could sel her into the slave trade,” he drawled.

“You assume, incorrectly, that I did not anticipate your threat.” Fluffing the lace at her elbow, she managed a slight curve to her lips to hide her terror.

“I will know. And then you will die.”

She felt him stiffen and her smile turned genuine. Ten and six was her age when Welton had ended her life. Anticipation for the day when she would pay him in kind was all that moved her when despair for her sister threatened paralysis.

“St. John.”

The name hung suspended in the air between them.

Maria’s breath caught. “Christopher St. John?”

It was rare that anything surprised her anymore. At the age of six and twenty, she believed she had seen and done nearly everything. “He has coin aplenty, but marriage to him will ruin me, making me less effective for your aims.”

“Marriage is not necessary this time. I’ve not yet depleted Lord Winter’s settlement. This is simply a search for information. I believe they are engaging St. John in some business. I want you to discover what it is they want with him, and most importantly, who arranged his release from prison.”

Maria smoothed the bloodred material that pooled around her legs. Her two unfortunate husbands had been agents of the Crown whose jobs made them highly useful to her stepfather. They had also been peers of great wealth, much of which they left to her for Welton’s disposal upon their untimely demise.

Lifting her head, she looked around the theater, absently noting the curling smoke of candles and gilded scrol work that shone in firelight. The soprano on the stage struggled for attention, for no one was here to see her. The peerage was here to see each other and be seen, nothing more.

“Interesting,” Maria murmured, recal ing a sketch of the popular pirate. Uncommon handsome he was, and as deadly as she. His exploits were widely bandied, some tales so outrageous she knew they could not possibly be true. St. John was discussed with intemperate eagerness, and there were wagers aplenty