Welcome to the blog tour for DARING THE DETECTIVE, the third book in the adult historical romance series, Restitution League, by Riley Cole. See below for information on the book and series, buy links, and an exclusive excerpt.
About the Book
Title: DARING THE DETECTIVE
Series: Restitution League #3
Author: Riley Cole
Release Date: January 22, 2019
Genre: Adult Historical Romance
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Amazon AU | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Kobo | GooglePlay
He’s everything she disdains. She’s nothing he admires.
But love has its own delightful logic.
Whether bartering with Barbary pirates or angry Gypsy kings, Zadie Whitlock lives by her wits… and the business end of her parasol.
Detective Caleb Burke lives to right wrongs. He can’t abide Zadie’s daring, impulsive ways, especially after she leaves him bound to a library shelf with his own handcuffs.
Still, he can’t ignore the passion the damned woman ignites.
Nor can Zadie dismiss his smoldering allure. Which is troublesome in the extreme, because Caleb Burke isn’t the man for her. He’s too honorable, too loyal, and far too likely to follow the rules.
Dazzled by her indomitable spirit, Caleb makes a fateful choice that sets the two of them on a hunt for lost Viking treasure. Failure will see his career in ashes, and Zadie on trial for her life.
Pursued by deadly forces, they’ve got the power of the Restitution League on their side… and their own stubborn hearts in the way.
Irritated beyond all reason, Caleb stalked into the study Zadie’s aunt used as an office, eager to find whatever clues he could. He needed to solve Dr. Whitlock’s disappearance and get far away from their newest client. Quickly. His sanity demanded it.
The hansom ride to her house had been excruciating. She took up too much space, too much air, too much of his psychical energy. He couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t think.
She was a charlatan, an opportunist, and a stunningly attractive woman who wouldn’t hesitate to wield all the skills at her disposal to flummox any man foolish enough to enter her orbit. He knew the sort. She’d take on any job, with no regard for legalities, or her own safety, as long as the fee was high enough.
But then she’d kissed him. Caleb scratched his cheek. It hadn’t even been a real kiss. But it did make him want another, a deep, breathtaking kiss that would leave both of them gasping for air.
He jerked his head back, startled by the direction his thoughts were taking. He didn’t even like her. And yet that one feather-light kiss had sent him ass over teakettle.
Impatient with his own imaginings, he focused his attention on the room, straining to make sense of the scene. She’d described it accurately. Papers were flung about as if someone had made a hasty search. Before touching a thing, he stood in the center of the space and breathed. He couldn’t have articulated what he was after. It was too ephemeral to name. He only knew he did it at the scene of every crime. He wanted to see it as the criminal, and the victim, might have seen it.
And here, he sensed urgency. There was no blood, no torn draperies or overturned furniture. No indication of a struggle. Either Zadie’s aunt had been threatened with a weapon, or she’d fled of her own accord.
After waiting in the doorway, allowing him space, Zadie joined him in the study, moving close enough that her fragrance radiated over the few inches separating them. Sweet, with a bite of spice, it called to mind exotic locales shimmering with heat.
He clenched his jaw, willing away the distraction, and forced himself to focus on the room itself, soaking in the details, letting his mind imagine the scene. Like the other rooms in the house, it was tastefully furnished. There was the desk, of course, and the chair opposite, where he imagined her aunt’s occasional patients sat. A skeleton stood in the corner, suspended from a black wire stand. The skull regarded him with detached interest.
Zadie pointed at it. “That’s where I found the necklace.”
He stepped around the desk, careful not to tread on the papers littering the floor. She was right to dismiss robbery as a motive. Too many items of value remained in plain sight. Shelves of finely bound volumes lined the wall behind the desk, and a silver ink set and letter opener sat, untouched on an expensive-looking leather blotter.
Zadie scooped a blank paper from the floor and held it out to him. “Here’s something.”
He held it up to the light from the window next to the desk. A dark footprint covered most of the surface.
She picked up another sheet. “Here’s another.”
Caleb compared the two prints. “Same boot.” So they were after a single intruder. The lugs were thick, the heel worn almost away. “Work boots. Large ones.” He examined the rest of the papers but saw no other prints. “Do you have any male servants?”
“No.” She thought for a moment. “I can’t think of the last time a man was in the house, actually.”
He rolled the pages into a tube and stuck them in the inside pocket of his jacket. “Probably our intruder, then.”
“Oh no.” Zadie brushed past him to pick up an ancient book, its pages yellowed with age. “Her treasure map. She kept it in this volume.” She thumbed through the pages, then held the book by its spine and shook it. Eyes wide, she looked up at him. “She must have taken it with her.”
Caleb squinted at the bookcase behind the desk. Old books, new books, thick tomes, and sheaves of journals crowded the shelves. Clearly, only the one volume had been removed. Whoever had grabbed the book knew what they were after.
Zadie was right. Her aunt had probably removed it herself.
But had she been coerced? He refrained from voicing that dark thought, though the prickle between his shoulder blades didn’t bode well. If someone believed the treasure existed, a map could be worth killing over. “You’re certain no one else knew about it? Not the housekeeper or one of the maids?”
Before he’d completed the question, Zadie was shaking her head. “I’m the only person she confided in. She worried that it would put people in danger.” A pained look crossed her face. “I used to laugh at that.”
A pencil poised to roll off the edge of the desk caught his attention. He snatched it up and tapped out a rhythm on the blotter while he let his imagination sift through the evidence at hand. Best to start with what they did know…or could reasonably surmise. Whatever his motives, the intruder had rushed up the steps, kicked in the door, and barreled in. A glance would have told him the front parlor was empty. Less than a second, and he’d have been in her study.
Not enough time for her aunt to remove her necklace, grab a map, and get out.
She’d had some warning. But how?
The answer smacked him between the eyes. Zadie’s aunt had seen the intruder walking by on the street below.
He inched forward, gaze on the quiet view outside. “It was someone she recognized, or someone—”
“Who didn’t fit,” Zadie chimed in.
“Exactly.” He paced the office, clasping his hands behind his back. “It’s the only way she would have had time to get her map and leave you the necklace.”
Zadie seemed to be thinking through the scenario as well. “That makes sense.”
“But it’s not the only explanation that fits the facts,” he cautioned.
“I know.” She twisted her fingers together. “And it doesn’t explain the intruder’s motives.”
“No, it doesn’t.” He gave her a small smile, trying to ease her guilt. And then he thought of a marvelous distraction. “Are you up for an experiment?”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Let’s assume your aunt was at her desk.” He pointed at the desk chair and pulled the drapes wide. “When you see me walk toward the house, pretend to grab the map, then put the necklace where you found it. I want to see if you can evade me.”
“What makes you think I want to try?”
The heat in those few words was enough to make him hard. Painfully, achingly hard. Despite their dissimilarities, their opposing temperaments and the way she was able to anger him with the smallest shrug, he smiled. Grinned, actually. “You should try, Miss Whitlock. Because when I do catch you, you’ll find yourself in more trouble than you can handle.”
He laughed. There was no getting the better of her. Not with words, anyway.
He was still laughing as he hurried down the hall and out the door, shutting it behind him. Then he strolled off down the street. Not the way they’d come. He thought he’d try the opposite direction first. Her aunt would have seen them coming sooner from their original direction. He wanted to try this under the worst possible conditions.
The corner would do. He turned on his heel and walked back toward the house, careful to temper his stride. A seasoned criminal wouldn’t move too quickly…or too slowly. He strove to mimic the pace of a man with an agenda, but a man loath to attract attention.
He walked up the front steps at a sedate pace, then kicked softly at the broken door. Even though he barely brushed it, the door swung open hard enough to bang against the wall. He rushed in, taking only the briefest instant to scan the front parlor and the hallway toward the kitchen. It only took three steps to reach the study.
Zadie already had one leg hooked over the windowsill. She smiled at him, relief obvious in the set of her shoulders. “She could have made it.”
“Easily.” He crossed to her and held out a hand to help her back in. “It’s clear she could have—”
A harsh male voice called out from the pavement. “Hold it! Hold it right there.”
Two uniformed officers were rushing toward the house, followed by a dark-suited detective. Avery Pitcairn. The nastiest detective on the South London force.
“Miss Zadie Whitlock?” Pitcairn called out, loud enough to be heard over the cascade of footfalls behind him. “You’re wanted for questioning in the disappearance of Dr. Margaret Whitlock. It’s best for all concerned if you come along quietly.”
Holy blazing hell. He had to stop them. It made no sense, but the feeling was so strong, he couldn’t help himself. He had to prevent them from arresting her.
He yanked her back inside. “Do as I say. Exactly as I say. Trust me,” he whispered.
Her face pale, Zadie nodded.
He couldn’t turn her over. She hadn’t harmed her aunt. He didn’t know how he knew it, but he did. It was simply the way his detective brain worked. Bits and pieces of evidence coalesced into a larger picture. And the picture he had so far convinced him Zadie was innocent. Besides, if he was wrong, he could cart her off to Newgate himself. And he hated Pitcairn. A cruel little weasel of a man, Pitcairn took an outsized pleasure in the misfortune of others. Particularly women.
He couldn’t allow it. Which wouldn’t protect him from the consequences of what he was about to do.
He shoved his misgivings aside and greeted the ginger-haired officer. “You’re too late. I already have Miss Whitlock in custody.”
The shorter detective jerked to a stop halfway into the room, the whiskers of his large mustache quivering. “What?” He squinted at him. “Burke? Thought you worked out of the Yard. What the hell are you doing out here?”
“I am at the Yard. Miss Whitlock is a person of interest in a very sensitive case. I’m to take her there immediately.”
The man huffed. “More important than a possible murder? Her aunt is missing.”
“I’m aware of that.” Caleb pulled his handcuffs from his trouser pocket. “My case takes precedence. Trust me. There are people above me you don’t want to upset, if you know what I mean.”
Pitcairn’s cheeks reddened. “No, I don’t know.”
“Orders from the highest level.” Caleb tried to sound apologetic as he slid his hand down to Zadie’s wrist and snapped on the cuff.
Her gasp filled the room.
The other detective gave her a searing glare. “Did you know Dr. Whitlock’s solicitor dug up her will? Left everything to this baggage here. She’s the woman’s only living relative.”
“What?” Zadie gasped, earning her another angry look from Pitcairn.
His expression was still flat and cold when he turned his attention back to Caleb. “Didn’t mention that, did she?”
He laughed, but the sound held no mirth. “We had a bit of luck with that piece. The housekeeper knows the solicitor. Her sister’s his cook.”
He crossed to the window and squinted out at the street. “Where’s your carriage?”
“The driver’ll be right back,” Caleb lied. “Had to drop Morgan and Fitz at the Limehouse docks. We weren’t expecting Miss Whitlock to be here.”
Nor had he expected her to have such a strong motive to make her aunt disappear. Though the house was modest, it spoke of comfort…and more wealth than many enjoyed. His impassive, police officer’s expression firmly in place, he studied her, checking for any of the telltale signs of a liar. But all he saw was shock.
Pitcairn chewed the ends of his mustache while he ruminated. “Can I have her when you’re done?” he asked finally.
“I don’t see why not. As soon as the toffs running my investigation allow it.” Caleb snapped the handcuffs around her other wrist.
Pitcairn jerked his chin at Zadie. “Good. There’ll be plenty of time for us to chat once you’re locked up. Come on now, lads. Nothing else we can do here.”
Caleb waited until the lot of them had funneled out the door and back into their wagon before he allowed himself to consider what he’d just done.
Ruined his career, most likely.
Zadie turned her back toward him and wiggled her fingers, jangling the chains. “About these? You promised.”
Preoccupied with the weight of his actions, it took a moment for Caleb to process her statement. He eyed the cuffs. “I promised not to arrest you for theft. I never promised not to arrest you for murder.”
“That’s not funny. Take these off.”
It wasn’t. Not in the least. But the sight of her, helpless before him, chest heaving, lips parted, was the most erotic thing he’d ever seen.
He ran a hand over his mouth. Holy hell. He’d just tossed his career in the sewer, and all he could think about was throwing her on the nearest couch and undoing the tiny pearl buttons running down the front of her bodice.
Afraid he’d make good on his imaginings, he turned toward the window and watched the officers depart. “It’s not meant to be funny.” The consequences of what he’d just done certainly wouldn’t be humorous.
The catch in her voice pricked at his conscience. Whatever disaster he’d just made of his career, torturing her wouldn’t help. Old habit had his fingers around the key in his vest pocket before he’d even realized he’d decided to free her.
She evaded his gaze, but the strong pulse beating at the side of her neck and the way her breasts moved with the rhythm of her breathing suggested she didn’t fully trust him to unlock the things.
Nor did he. He walked behind her and rubbed his thumb over the inside of her wrists, tracing the delicate pulse. The skin of her thighs would be this soft. This warm. “I could renege on my promise.”
She shivered. “You wouldn’t.”
“How do you know? We’ve only just met.”
“I know you’re an honest man.”
Caleb snorted, trying to shake off her sensual spell. “Not all policemen are honest. Far from it.”
“You can’t know that.”
“Oh, but I can.” She tossed her head back, flinging a dark curl out of her eyes. “It’s your friends. The League. They trust you, and I trust them.”
But could he trust himself? Maybe he should steal a kiss before he released her. He considered it, thinking long and hard about how she’d feel in his arms, but propriety and a healthy dose of self-preservation won out. Toying with a woman as bright and sensual as Zadie might leave a scar.
And he had plenty of other things to worry about now. He jabbed the key in the lock. The cuffs fell away, severing the electric connection between them.
She rubbed her wrists. “They’ll be expecting you to bring me in.”
“I know.” He dropped the cuffs back into his pocket.
Something in his tone must have concerned her. She scooted back, just out of reach. “You wouldn’t.”
“Of course not.” He ran a hand through his hair. “But I’ll need to explain why you’re not in custody.”
She strode back and forth across the worn carpet, obviously considering alternatives as well. Outside, the light was fading as afternoon slid into a golden autumn dusk. He’d be expected at the station before long. There wasn’t much time to lose.
And then he had it.
It was an idiotic idea, but it was the best he could come up with. He motioned her to him and spread his legs, bracing himself for what was to come. “Hit me,” he commanded.
She backed up until the bookcases stopped her. “This is no time for jokes.”
“Hit me,” he insisted. “Make it good.”
“I can’t do that.”
He caught her gaze and smiled. “There were a couple of times at the League you would’ve loved to plant me a facer.”
Her delicate earrings swayed as she shook her head. “I was angry then. This…this is cold-blooded.”
Still giddy with panic over what he’d just done, he grinned. “I can make you angry, if you like.”
She rolled her eyes.
He turned the side of his face toward her. “Hurry.” Before he came to his senses. Before he did the reasonable thing and took her to the station himself.
Her lips parted as she drew in a fortifying breath and then, before he had time to steel himself, she balled her hand into a fist and swung.
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About the Author
Riley has a long fascination with all things Victorian. She loves the peculiar mix of science, mysticism and innovation that collided in the Victorian Era.
To say nothing of bustles. Bustles and elaborate hats and parasols. Parasols for rain. Parasols for sun. And parasols that morph into swords…of course.
Sadly, Riley has little use for umbrellas in the dry foothills of the Eastern Sierra, but she consoles herself with forest hikes and dips in cool mountain lakes. Besides—no matter where one resides—a proper cuppa never comes amiss.
If you enjoy a little high adventure—and a lot of desire—with your historical romance, delve into Riley’s version of late Victorian London.
Thieves, rogues, and love await…
For more information about Riley, please visit her website, “like” Riley on Facebook and follow her on Twitter. Sign up for Riley’s newsletter to be notified about upcoming releases. She’s loves hearing from her readers. Email her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.