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Protecting Lady Annise -- Tess S. John

Protecting Lady Annise
Regency Redemption Series

Lady Annise Belmont lives the life of a peer while secretly writing as the author A. Bel. When the magistrate wants to question A. Bel about a murder that mirrors a scene in one of her books, she realizes her identity is in danger of being exposed and worse, she could be arrested for a homicide. She runs to a man she’s secretly adored—the only one who can help her.

Mr. Devan Lansing, a solicitor, is shocked when Lady Annise shows up on his doorstep. He’s always held affections for her, but never acted on them because of their societal differences. While battling demons from his past, Devan vows to do whatever necessary to keep her safe.

The murderer, however, has other plans.

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Chapter One

London, England ~ Late Summer 1820

There must be some mistake!

Lady Annise Belmont sat in her brother-in-law’s library staring in disbelief at Mr. Ichabod Paisley. Every word he spoke seemed to drive a spike deeper and deeper into her temples.

“A woman was murdered in the same fashion you wrote about in Manhunter. The magistrate wants to question you.” Usually a composed man, Mr. Paisley’s green eyes were wide, and he ran his shaking fingers through his disheveled brown hair. When he entered the library moments ago, he’d talked so fast she couldn’t understand his words. Now he spoke slower, yet with resolute urgency. “You must leave London immediately, before everyone learns you are A. Bel.”

Mr. Paisley, her publisher, was one of only four people who knew she was A. Bel. She’d been exceedingly careful no one else found out. “Surely no one would believe I orchestrated a murder. Anyone who read my book could have done it.”

“The murder happened before the book’s release.”

“Oh heavens.”How could that be?

“A Bow Street runner who read the book brought it to the attention of the magistrate. Two runners came to my office today and asked for A. Bel’s real name. I refused to tell them, but they threatened to return with a subpoena.”

“I can simply go to Bow Street and explain I had nothing to do with the murder.”

“Absolutely not. The authorities are not known for their thoroughness when they are exacting justice.” He held out a piece of paper. “I secured you passage on a ship to America. It sets sail in an hour. Here’s the address of my cousin who lives in Boston and a note. I am requesting she allows you to live with her until you find a place to take up residence.”

Annise did not reach for the paper. “I cannot sail to America.”

“You must.” He closed his eyes, and pain etched his features. “I’m afraid someone may be targeting my writers.”

She gasped. “Why do you believe that?”

“The murdered woman, Miss Bissel, was one of my authors. She wrote under the pen name Madam X.”

Shock shook through her.

“That means one of my writers was killed by an idea from another of my writers.”

She had to admit, that was an unlikely coincidence. An icy chill raced through her.

“Until I figure out how to secure your safety, you must leave England.” He hurried over and grabbed her arm. With a yank, he pulled her to her feet and hauled her toward the exit. The room whirled around her—the library shelves filled with books and trinkets, the upholstered furniture, the windows overlooking the garden—throwing her off balance. She stumbled.

Mr. Paisley steadied her. “I have money for you.”

His persistence scared her even more. She stopped and jerked her arm, but could not get out of his hold. “I cannot accept your money, Mr. Paisley. Plus, my leaving will make me look guilty.”

He held on tighter and frowned.

A knock sounded.

She froze.

Mr. Paisley released her.

The door opened, and the Cheswick butler entered. “Lady Annise. Mrs. Richter prepared a tray.”

“Thank you, Wesley.” She smiled like nothing was out of the ordinary.

While he set the tray on the table nestled between two chairs facing the hearth, she dashed toward the open door. “I will return shortly.”

Before Mr. Paisley could object, Annise hustled out of the room and up the stairs. Once inside her bedchamber, she flitted around like an excited, inexperienced thief, picking up everything she saw and filling her arms. Thankfully, it was Louise’s day off. Her maid would panic seeing Annise in such a state.

She wished her sister was in town, but Ursula and her husband, Nate, were at his country estate.

What would people think when they learned Annise was an author? Or worse, what would people think when they learned she’d plotted a real murder? Dear heavens.

Her instinct was to go back to Mr. Paisley and let him see her out of London, but that would make her appear guilty.

I am not guilty of anything.

Suddenly, she threw the items onto the bed and inhaled deeply, slowing her mind and thoughts.

Mr. Paisley may have her best interest at heart, but he could not help her. Not with this situation.

Already dressed in mourning black, she put on the veil she wore when she went out in public. Grabbing her money, reticule, and satchel with important documents, she started down the back stairs. The servants were busy attending to their chores and paid her no mind.

Once outside, she inhaled the cool evening air. The darkening sky provided enough light for her to see as she walked through the garden and into the alley behind the house. She hurried down the abandoned lane and made her way to the street.

She gazed right, then left.

Where to now?