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Tilly Wallace

Secrets to Reveal

Secrets to Reveal

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Every heart holds a secret, but some are harder to reveal than others…

England, 1812. Aster Simmons lives a quiet and orderly existence working as a secretary and indulging in her love for puzzles—until her routine is disrupted by the arrival of an impertinent Scotsman who lounges around her office like an overgrown dog. The heated glances he casts her way make her think very non-routine thoughts.

Hamish Logan, captain in the Highland Wolves, has been given a mission to protect the man working on a coded list of traitors. If the Wolves are ever to have the same rights as ordinary men, he has to prove to those in power that a wolf can be civilised. The only problem is the fascinating secretary, who makes his wolf rise to the surface and makes him want to do very uncivilised things.

When the traitors strike, Aster flees with a wolf in pursuit. But can she determine who is behind the plot against England before she forfeits her heart and her life?

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Woolwich, March 1812

“Dougal, your breath could incapacitate a vampyre.” The noxious odour assaulted Aster’s nose and roused her from sleep. It was so foul she suspected even a creature that flouted the laws of Nature would have been stopped in its tracks. She screwed up her face and rolled over, but the smell leapt over her and continued its assault. “Honestly, your breath could be a secret weapon against the French and their undead warriors. No need for cannon, just equip each man at the front with his own Dougal.”
Although, she’d heard the French ingested large amounts of garlic, so perhaps that would be an antidote to Dougal’s breath? Either way, she could take it no longer. She pushed Dougal away, but the irritating creature kept licking at her exposed flesh.
The wet raspy tongue made her sit up. “Dougal, no! I don’t want whatever foul concoction you have eaten all over my hands.”
The little Scottish terrier cocked his head to one side. He tried to blink away the long black hair obscuring his vision, but it didn’t work. He yapped and went back to licking Aster.
“Why exactly do I share a home with you?” she asked the tenacious canine. A rhetorical question, since Dougal was certain of his place in Aster’s affections, based on his obvious magnificence and ability to wake her early in the morning. Light had only just begun to sneak between the curtains and creep across the floor. Its path illuminated the worn timbers and faded rug she’d bought to add some warmth for her toes in winter.
The landlady had almost denied Aster a room, not wanting a filthy dog in her house—a somewhat ironic stance, given the sad state of the establishment. Then Dougal had bounced off with a bark and a snarl, and returned a minute later with a very dead rat between his jaws. His ability to sniff out and deal with the rodent population had earned him, and Aster, a roof over their heads and a small space to call their own. That was two years ago, but little had changed in their daily routine since. The orderly days soothed some part of Aster’s mind. Their life might not be exciting, but it was predictable and simple.
“Come along, then.” She rose from bed and stretched.
She pushed aside the curtains to admit the dawn, and cast an eye over her room. The single bed was up against one wall. Spread over it was a quilt in shades of green and pink, made from leftover scraps purchased cheaply from a local seamstress. Against the wall opposite the bed stood a wardrobe. Its dark wood and ornately carved panels made it look like it belonged elsewhere; Aster suspected the landlady had found it discarded outside a much grander house. A lone maidenhair fern sat on a dresser, injecting a spot of greenery to the décor. A pile of books rested on the floor next to the bed. Their edges were lined up exactly, and all their spines faced the same way. At the top of the pile was the recent novel by A. Lady, Sense and Sensibility. Not exactly high literature, but Aster couldn’t help dreaming of her own quiet hero who would one day cast longing looks her way.
At twenty-two, Aster had no one in the world to support her, and no family to worry over her. There was no warm country home to shelter her, nor a dowry to entice some capable lad to offer for her hand. Only by dint of her intelligence did she keep herself from the poorhouse or other less salubrious occupations. She well understood the forces that drove other women to sell their bodies; one winter she had teetered on that edge herself.
Her decision not to pursue the oldest occupation was a practical one—Aster just didn’t think she would fetch much of a price. What man would pay for her angular body, plain face, and lack of experience? She would have to bore the other party with a multitude of questions about what exactly he intended to place where. Far better to use the gift God had endowed her with: her mind.
Serendipity had intervened that frigid night when an elderly gentleman dropped a parcel near where Aster and Dougal were sheltering in a doorway. When she returned the wrapped package, the subsequent lively conversation—about what kinds of creatures lurked in the dark—prompted him to extend an offer of employment. An elderly mage in frail health, he needed a secretary who could answer his correspondence but who was unafraid of a mystical employer. Some years later, his letter of recommendation had been pivotal in securing her current role.
Dougal had been an extravagance and another mouth to feed. Yet the day she’d spotted the scruffy black pup sticking out of a basket on the roadside, she couldn’t walk away. Her heart ached for another creature to share her life with, and the little terrier brought joy into her darkest moments—not to mention warmth during those long nights she’d slept outside, and protection from the beings that scuttled about in the night. She could never begrudge the meals she shared with him, even if he did wake her early by breathing eau de rat over her face.
She ruffled his fur and then dressed quickly. Winter lingered in the morning chill pervading her room, and her teeth were chattering by the time she’d donned a sturdy brown cotton dress and pulled on woollen stockings. With Dougal at her heels, she headed down the rickety stairs to the overgrown garden out back. While the dog cavorted and explored the wilderness, Aster went back inside to the kitchen for a bowl of porridge. No other tenant had yet roused. Some of the other women were shop girls or seamstresses, and they kept slightly later hours. She helped herself from the pot on the stove and warmed her hands around the bowl. Her rent paid for two meals a day; it was plain food, but enough to sustain her.

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