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Sunday, January 12, 2020

His Talent by Barbara Russell 💕 New Release Spotlight & Limited Time Freebie Offer 💕 (Steampunk Romance)



Auckland, 1859

Alexandra Greystone is a Supernatural. The power of deduction is her gift . . . and her curse. With one look, she can understand everything about a man: where he comes from, what he does for a living, and even if he cheated on her. Like her former husband.

A marriage annulment is painful enough without Auckland’s peers doing nothing but gossip about her. Bruised and hurt, she accepts a job with Military Intelligence Seventh Division to catch a dangerous criminal.

It’s the perfect solution: she’ll help people, escape Auckland, and keep her mind off her ex-husband and men.

Except that she has to work with Noah, a pugilist with an attitude and appalling manners to make a pirate look like a refined gentleman. Still, maybe an adventure with a man so different from the aristocratic gentlemen she’s used to is what she needs.

She wonders if her uncanny power will discover all his dark secrets. Or if her heart will be broken again.

**For adults. It contains sex scenes and other dark themes**


Chapter 1


Auckland, 1859
Alexandra

THE INVITATION CARD was nothing exceptional.
Cream-coloured paper and golden embossed letters informed me I was expected in Parnell district, 17 Tuatara Road, at nine o’clock at night by Miss Rovel.
No explanation, no details, and no ‘please.’
Typical.
I paused in the middle of the pavement and adjusted the hood of my cloak to cover my face. Heat wafted from the ground after another hot spring day in Auckland, and the cloak wasn’t just seasonably unfashionable but heavy, and it chafed my skin.
Still, I’d rather suffer a bit of excessive warmth to hide my features than meet and be recognised by any of my friends—pardon, ex-friends who lived in posh Parnell. If Miss Rovel weren’t the head of Military Intelligence Seventh Division of New Zealand, I wouldn’t be here breathing in the coal-scented air of central Auckland, but I’d be in my cosy cottage on St. Mary’s Bay, sipping iced tea and reading a book, trying to pretend I hadn’t had the most disastrous marriage annulment in history.
I twirled the card in my hand. Number 17 of Tuatara Road was a few steps away, beckoning at me with its pristine marble steps and gleaming white walls that promised order and efficiency, exactly like Miss Rovel. Being called by MI7 didn’t happen every day, and if I said I wasn’t curious, I’d tell the biggest lie in my life. Of course, the only reason Miss Rovel might call me was because she needed my supernatural skills for a case, which could be the distraction I needed. Spending the days sulking about my failed marriage wasn’t healthy.
A man hurried along the pavement, and I stepped aside to let him pass. He cast a curious glance at me, most likely wondering what an unchaperoned lady was doing at night in an aristocratic quarter like Parnell, but after having been deceived by the man who was supposed to love me for the rest of my life, I preferred to be unchaperoned than in company of cheating men.
Sometimes being able to master the ability of deduction was a curse. Twirling the card again, I unleashed my power. It was like opening a window and let a warm breeze in. A gust stroked my cheek, and the world sharpened. Every detail sprang to the fore. Things I hadn’t noticed before became perfectly clear.
A glossy finish coated the card, the type of polish produced in South Auckland. Miss Rovel had a mansion in South Auckland, and judging by the tiny scab of red in a corner of the card, she’d applied some nail paint before posting the invitation. The ink was smeared over the letters ‘a’ in exactly the same way, which made me think she’d used one of those automatons for printing small cards that were all the rage at the moment. Bottom line, the card was genuine, sent by Miss Rovel. No attempt to lure me here under false pretences.
My power rushed back into my chest, and I blinked as the cobbled street lined with pohutukawa trees turned grey and dull. I slipped the card in my reticule and resumed walking towards number 17 when a thud sounded from an alley on my right.    
Three silhouettes—tall, bulky male figures—stood out against the dim yellow lights of the gas lamps. The men talked with raspy voices.
One of them had unfashionably short hair, so clipped the strong shape of his neck was easy to spot. A man was holding Short Hair from behind, while a third beat the daylights out of him. With each punch, Short Hair jolted, and grunts and groans ripped the air.
“Do you think you can do whatever you want?” The Puncher assessed another blow to Short Hair and hit him on the face.
I winced as a phantom pain stung my jaw. The punch had been merciless.
Short Hair’s knees buckled, but the third man held him upright.
Tarnation. I searched the road. It was as empty as my wedding bed. Never a bobby when I needed one. Two men beating one wasn’t fair. Probably, the three of them were thugs, fighting over their latest crime, but I hated cowards, and two against one meant being a coward.
My power surged again, begging to be released. The three men’s movements slowed as energy flowed out of me, and details became clear. The Puncher leaned on his left leg mostly, and a slight limp appeared when he shifted on the right leg. Short Hair’s shirt was ripped over the shoulder and showed the two-inch, cross-shaped tattoo the convicts sent to Australia were marked with. The third man had his belt half opened and the lapels of his shirts were in disarray.
Also . . . there were a few more particulars that screamed for attention and they were quite interesting.
Plucking out my silk gloves, I strolled towards the men, my skirts swaying with each step. “Excuse me. You might want to stop beating that man to a pulp quite soon, I believe.”
The Puncher paused, mouth hanging. Then he raked a glare over me and snarled.
“Get out of here. It ain’t a place for a woman,” he grunted. Yellow teeth flashed from underneath his curled-up lip.
Short Hair sucked in a shaky breath. One of his brows was split, and blood oozed profusely over his swollen-shut eye. Old and fresh bruises covered his half naked chest and neck. He shot me a hard stare as if to say that I was mad for being here.
“Leave, lady.” His Adam’s apple bobbed up and down as he swallowed. Yet, his voice rang strong and deep. He was being beaten, but he wasn’t defeated.
I wasn’t going anywhere. Certain battles could be won without throwing punches if one used the right words.
I turned to Puncher and scanned him again with my power. “I’d suggest you go home to your wife Mary and tell her you aren’t going to accept anymore of her nonsense because you know who her lover is.”
“What—” Puncher staggered on his feet. The light of the gas lamps flickered on his bald head. The fist he’d lifted lowered, falling limply at his side. “What in the bloody hell . . . How do ye know me wife’s name? How do ye know about her lover? I ain’t knowing her lover’s name.”
“Oh yes, you do,” I continued now that I had his attention. “You know her lover quite well. He’s your fellow puncher right behind the man you’re pummelling.” I flicked a finger in the direction of the man with the messy shirt.
Silence dropped like a bomb.
A shudder went through Messy Shirt. His greasy hair curled above his cheeks. “Al, it’s not true. I’ve never—”
“They met a few hours ago, you know.” I arched a brow, scrutinising Messy Shirt again. “He still has her perfume”—I took a sniff—“roses and mint on his skin.”
“Dammit, Todd.” Al the Puncher shoved Short Hair aside.
The poor man dropped on the cobbles with a thud and groaned, wiping his face from the blood. Pity soured the back of my mouth, but before I could offer him assistance, Al grabbed Todd’s shirt and shook him like a hound who had caught a rabbit.
“Is it bloody true?” Al’s rough voice matched his squared jaw and bear-like hands.
“I don’t . . . I don’t . . .” Todd quivered. His fingers grasped Al’s beefy arms.
“Answer me!” Al’s booming voice silenced a nearby ruru owl.
Todd shook his head. “Mary started it.”
I huffed. Pathetic. 
Punches flew. Kicks hit shins and knees. It was hard to tell who was hitting whom so entwined Al and Todd were. I flinched at each blow as the scene triggered bad memories. My stomach, back, and arms remembered how painful being punched was.
Sweat glistened on both men. Todd managed to slip from underneath Al’s grip and ran away faster that I could say cheater. Al chased him, his big feet slapping the cobbles, screaming curses.
That left me alone with the tattooed, short-haired, convicted man. He sat on the ground and rubbed his shoulder.
I glanced at the other side of the alley, ready to bolt out if he attacked me. Although he didn’t seem in the shape to hurt anyone. My good deed was done, and I had no reason to loiter here, but the way he wheezed and stared at the brick wall in front of him held something incredibly sad. A fist of pity squeezed my heart.
I cleared my throat. “Do you need a doctor?”
A laugh, deep and masculine, shook his body. “A doctor?” He faced me.
One of his eyes was a rich green, the colour of moss and pine needles, while the other, barely visible through the swollen skin, was the lightest shade of gold.
“How did you know all those things about Al’s wife?” he asked, standing up and uncoiling his massive body. He had to be over six feet.
I took a step back, suddenly aware of his towering height.
He brushed his brown cotton shirt and picked up a leather satchel from a corner. “Well? Not so chatty anymore? How did you know Todd was knapping Al’s wife?”
I slanted up my chin. It was better to talk to him. If he got a hint of my fear, he’d probably pounce on me.
“It was simplicity itself.” My power slouched back inside me, a bit depleted after I’d used it twice. “Al wore a gold pendant around his neck. The name ‘Mary’ was engraved in it along with a date. It was logical to suppose Mary was his wife and the date was the day of their wedding. A gift then, from the bride to the groom. But he wasn’t wearing a ring although the slightly discoloured skin on his finger meant he had a ring but removed it. For what reason? Certainly not because he was worried to lose it. The puffed flesh around the discoloured skin proved the ring was on the tight size, thus it was unlikely Al could misplace it. He removed it because he was angry with Mary.
“For what reason? Al had marks on the side of his cheek. Fingernails painted with cheap pink nail polish left them. A slap from a woman, but since he was the angry one, then he likely yelled at Mary. She got annoyed and slapped him. Why would a wife and a husband who exchanged a sweet wedding present barely two years ago argue like that? Cheating was my guess. He accused her of having an affair. She denied it and as many cheaters caught in flagrante do, she grew furious. The other fella, Todd, had the same fingernail marks of Al but on his neck. Not a slap then, but maybe the too harsh caress of a lover. The scent of Mary’s perfume wafted from both men, so the rest was easy to guess.”
I took a deep breath and smoothed the bodice of my silk overcoat. Quite unnecessary in this warm weather, but I liked how it fit to my body, making me feel more confident than I was.
Short Hair wiped his chin. “Hellfire. I’m impressed.” He adjusted the satchel on his shoulder. “And you got all that from a look?”
“Deduction is a well-known science. The clues were there. I just put them together.”
He gave a nod, flexing his powerful, bruised knuckles. “And you intervened, risking your neck because?”
The temperature seemed to rise a few more degrees when he stared at me with an intensity that could’ve burned a tree.
I fiddled with my gloves. “It wasn’t fair. Two men against one, and I don’t mean to offend you, but you seemed in serious trouble.”
He scoffed. “If you expect me to thank you—”
“I don’t. You aren’t obviously the type of man who apologises or thanks people often.”
“Really?” His broad shoulders swayed when he moved closer. So closer I caught a whiff of his musky scent, like bergamot. “And what else have you deduced from me?”
I tried to not flinch at the threatening tone in his voice. A quick scan of him with my power told me everything I needed to know. “The tattoo on your shoulder. It’s a cross, the symbol of the Supernatural criminals shipped to Australia. Yet, you didn’t use your superpower against those two thugs. Maybe because you’re exhausted. Your body has old bruises and scars. Your knuckles are scraped raw. You’re built like a pugilist.” All those lean muscles wouldn’t escape my notice even if I didn’t have my deduction power. “My guess is that you’re a bare-knuckle fighter, fighting illegally of course, but illegal fighting is not the reason you’ve been sent to Australia, is it?”
He stretched out his fingers, then clasped them again.
“You didn’t escape from prison though,” I continued. “You were released. They tattooed you again. Right over the cross, there’s a one-inch lily, meaning you were pardoned and released before your sentence was complete. Am I right?”
I was. Deduction rarely failed.
His jaw clenched. “Impressive again but stay away from my business.”
The worn satchel slapped his thick thighs when he pivoted and strode away, hands shoved in his pockets.
I shook my head. “You’re welcome!” I yelled to his disappearing back.
Muttering to myself that I would never help that man again, I hurried away and knocked on the door of number 17.
Miss Rovel opened the door, sharp black eyes narrowing on me. “You’re late.”
Drat. “I was rescuing a not-so-gentle-man in distress.”
Her brow shot up. She stepped aside and held the door open. “Thank you for coming.”
My skirts whooshed when I stepped into the brightly lit foyer. The lights from the sconces reflected on the polished wooden floor that smelled of beeswax, a nice change from Al and Todd’s sweat.
Miss Rovel shut the door but didn’t lock it. Was she waiting for someone else?
“First room on the left, please,” she said.
“Is another guest coming?” I asked, walking into a sitting room.
The couch faced the cold hearth, but it was in such a cosy, protected position, I wanted to curl on it and forget the world.
A pot of tea rested on the low table, and the smell of cinnamon filled the air. After the use of my power, my stomach rumbled in appreciation. I perched on the couch and removed my cloak, sighing in relief at the cool air on my skin.
“I’m waiting for just one more person.” Miss Rovel gathered her skirts and sat in the armchair in front of me. Her dark skin glowed in the gentle light of the gas lamps, and the Maori tattoo on her chin held a soft brown hue that complimented her eyes.
She poured the tea, glancing at the door.
“Can you tell me something about the reason you summoned me here? Or do we have to wait for this other person?” I asked, adding sugar to my tea.
Her keen stare lingered on me as if she were deciding if I was trustworthy enough for her to talk. I didn’t take her hesitation as a personal offence. Miss Rovel was the head of MI7. She dealt with Supernatural agents and Supernatural criminals. Lots of responsibilities lay on her shoulders.
“I need your skills for an investigation,” she replied with ease.
“I’m not an MI7 agent, not fully at least.” I sipped my tea to avoid another glare.
But it was true. Miss Rovel considered me as a freelancer. A detective consultant she hired occasionally, and while it didn’t bother me because I had the freedom to accept or refuse a job if I wanted, I could remind her of the fact she used me only when she was desperate.
“There has been another bomb.” Her voice cracked.
I lowered my cup, a chill creeping up my arms. “Louden and his team of anarchists?”
“They didn’t hit a factory or a steamer this time, but a school for technology.”
“Oh lord.” I swallowed the dollop of tea as a knot of dread tightened in my throat. It wasn’t hard to believe that Louden and his anarchists had attacked a school that taught technology and science, but their boldness was escalating. “How many . . .”
“Three and twenty.” Miss Rovel’s fingers clenched the armrests. “A few were just boys and girls.”
I put a hand on my roiling stomach.
A folded newspaper on the low table showed a picture of Louden’s symbol—a half star with the points aiming up. It represented a rising sun, a dawn without the oppression of technology and machines, so Louden said.
“I hate how Louden manages to slip through my fingers like smoke.” She shoved to her feet and paced.
Her blue skirts rustled about her legs like sea waves. Without the loops, the fabric fell nicely over her curves, giving her the air of a warrior princess.
“Every time we’re getting close to him, he disappears.” Anger rang in her voice. “Then he blows another one of his damned bombs and mocks us. The Queen demands we do something to stop him. The prime minister is outraged, but no one understands that it’s difficult to chase an international criminal organisation with the scarce resources we have. They want results? They should give me more money!”
Blimey. I couldn’t blame her. “What can I do to help?”
Straightening, I folded my hands on my lap. I didn’t need to think about accepting the job or not. Louden was becoming the biggest threat the British Empire had ever faced with dozens of victims every month. His organisation hit all around the world, but the Empire and the Americas were its favourite targets.
Miss Rovel came to a screeching halt in front of me. “Louden’s right hand, Ethan Armitage, has been badly wounded during the last bombing. I received intelligence that he’s hiding in Queenstown while he recovers. I want him. Alive. Or at least able to talk.”
Queenstown. A cold sliver of anxiety gripped my neck. I’d spent my honeymoon in Queenstown a year ago. All those sweet memories . . . destroyed by the bitterness of what happened after the honeymoon. I’d promised to never, ever return to Queenstown again. But life was ironic, wasn’t it? Every time I swore to never do something, life had a way to push me into doing it.
Miss Rovel cocked her head. “You paled. Is something the matter?”
“No, it’s that—”
The click of the front door closing came, then heavy footsteps padded on the foyer.
Miss Rovel turned towards the noise. “We’re here, in the sitting room,” she called.
“Your second guest?” I asked, peering at the door.
“Your partner in this job.”
Partner? I worked alone.
The door of the sitting room swung inwards, and the last person I thought I’d see here stepped, no, strutted inside. Short Hair shot me a glare of pure annoyance while he strolled with his pugilist swagger in the room. His mismatched eyes widened.
My mouth hung open as surprise shocked me into stillness.
No, no, no.
Queenstown plus this caveman meant hell. And I’d rather face the devil than spending time with Short Hair in the city of my betrayed memories.
He slipped his satchel from his shoulder and tossed it on the floor. “Here I am, Rov. What do you want this time?”

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Auckland, 1884

While other aristocratic, nineteen-year-old girls spend time dancing and partying, Isabel trains hard to become an agent with Military Intelligence Seventh Division, MI7, a crime fighting squad run by Supernaturals.

As a serial killer dubbed the Heart Collector starts slaughtering Supernaturals, Isabel tries to recruit Murk, a dangerous Supernatural man who can turn himself invisible.

Being an empath, she senses other people’s feelings as if they were her own. Anger, lust, love, worry—souls have no secrets for her. If Murk wants to attack her, his feelings will broadcast his intention, and she’ll be ready.

What Isabel isn’t ready for is to meet the man who will collect her heart and to fall in love with him.

  

I’m an entomologist and a soil biologist, which is a fancy way to say that I dig in the dirt, looking for bugs. Nature and books have always been my passion. I was a kid when I read The Lord Of The Rings and fell in love with fantasy novels.

When I discovered cosy mystery and crime novels, I fell in love with Hercules Poirot and Sherlock Holmes. Then I grew up and . . . Nah, I’m joking. I didn’t grow up. Don’t grow up, folks! It’s a trap.


    


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She wonders if her uncanny power will discover all his dark secrets.
Or if her heart will be broken again.
His Talent by Barbara Russell
#SteampunkRomance
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