Dangerous to Love

( 4 )


Dangerous. Wild. Reckless.

Those were the words that passed through Serna Ward’s mind at the moment Julian Raynor entered the gaming Hall. If anyone could penetrate Serena’s disguise as a tart–and jeopardize the political fugitives she was delivering to freedom–it would surely be London’s most notorious gamester. Yet when the militia storms the establishment in search of traitors, Raynor provides just the pretext Serna needs to escape to an upstairs bedroom. But Serena is ...

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Dangerous to Love

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Dangerous. Wild. Reckless.

Those were the words that passed through Serna Ward’s mind at the moment Julian Raynor entered the gaming Hall. If anyone could penetrate Serena’s disguise as a tart–and jeopardize the political fugitives she was delivering to freedom–it would surely be London’s most notorious gamester. Yet when the militia storms the establishment in search of traitors, Raynor provides just the pretext Serna needs to escape to an upstairs bedroom. But Serena is playing with fire...and before the night is through she will find herself surrendering to the heat of unsuspected desires.

Seductive. Fiery. Treacherous.

She had used him for her own scheming purposes, then thrown his generous proposition back in his face. Julian Raynor, a man who had ruthlessly enjoyed his share of women, did not much care to have the tables turned on him. And when he discovered that the passionate beauty who had played his wonton prisoner in bed was none other than Serena Ward, the proud daughter of his bitterest enemy, he saw his chance for revenge–not only on the man who had single-handedly destroyed his family but on the woman who haunted his dreams.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
When London aristocrat Serena Ward disguises herself as an actress for the Jacobite cause, she does not count on attracting the amorous attention of Julian Raynor, owner of a popular gaming club--and die-hard anti-Jacobite. Their first encounter is a study in mistaken identity and sensuality that results in Serena's downfall. Julian, who blames Serena's father for his family's misfortunes, plans to exact revenge by marrying Serena. Tricked into marriage, Serena finds it difficult to maintain her icy reserve toward Julian, and the attraction she feels for him soon turns to love. In the age-old tradition of love never running smoothly, behind the scenes machinations and treachery ensure that the lovers have much to conquer before they can attain happiness. Thornton, author of six previous historicals, delivers unique plot twists and sharply drawn characters. She uses enforced separation, a genre taboo, to her advantage as she develops conflict. Her knowledge of the Georgian era is evident and lends period flavor to this satisfying read. (July)
Library Journal
When Jacobite sympathizer Serena Ward is mistaken for a common prostitute by the notorious rake Julian Raynor, a surprise raid of the Thatched Tavern by the militia sends her straight to his bed-and into his life. Thornton's (Velvet Is the Night, Windsor, 1992) novel of deception, intrigue, and revenge, set during the turbulent period following the Battle of Culloden, is historically interesting and technically well written, but the characters lack motivation and the pacing lags.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553567878
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/28/1994
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 464
  • Product dimensions: 4.20 (w) x 6.90 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Elizabeth Thornton was born and educated in Aberdeen, Scotland, where she taught school for a number of years.

She is the author of five Regency Romances and fifteen historical romances. She has been nominated for and received many awards including the Romantic Times Trophy Award for the best New Historical Regency Author and Best Historical Regency. Her books have appeared on best-selling lists and have been translated into many languages.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The first time Serena saw him, she knew there was going to be trouble. He had that look. It was the sudden stillness that alerted her to his presence. She looked up from the cards Flynn had just dealt her and became aware of a silent, menacing figure in the open doorway. One hand rested casually on the hilt of his smallsword, and even in that dim light, she could see the distinct challenge in his eyes as they scanned the various tables in the tavern's crowded, smoke-filled common room.

Dangerous. Reckless. Wild. Those were the words that passed through
Serena's mind. When his glance fell on her, taking in her filmy costume, lingering on her artfully painted face framed with soot-black curls, and the wide expanse of white bosom, especially the wide expanse of white bosom, her fingers itched to reach for her cape to cover herself. She had no idea why his interest should fix on her. In relation to some of the other "ladies" who were present that evening, she was hardly worth a second stare. Nothing too much, nothing too obvious—that was the rule she and Flynn followed.

Remembering the role she was playing, she smiled at him vaguely and drew Flynn's attention to the stranger by fingering the black silk patch at the corner of her mouth, her signal to be on the alert. Then the stranger's eyes passed over her, and calling for a tankard of ale, he found a place for himself at a table against the wall. Only then did the hum of conversation resume.

Serena darted a quick, questioning look at Flynn. It was one of the other players, however, a resident performer at Drury Lane, who answered Serena's pointed look. Cassie, in Serena's opinion, was
worth a second stare. The girl's looks were dramatic, and her tightly laced hooped gown of crimson damask set off her supple curves to admiration. Serena had left off her hoops this evening, knowing that they would only get in the way once she and Flynn embarked on their mission.

"Julian Raynor," whispered Cassie, her eyes fairly devouring the gentleman in question, "you know, the gamester. Oh Lud, he's looking our way," and she slanted Raynor a flirtatious look that was half challenging, half mischievous.

Cassie's partner, a young actor, let out an impatient sigh. "Ladies,
may I remind you that a card game is in progress? I suggest you mind your cards."

"And I second that suggestion," said Flynn, giving Serena a very straight look.

It was hard to concentrate on the game of whist that was in progress when the name of London's most notorious gamester was reverberating inside her head. Somehow Serena managed to contribute to the lively conversation that went on about her, as well as play her cards without drawing attention to herself. But behind her smiles and carefully untroubled expression, her mind was hard at work.

What she could not fathom was why Raynor would deign to visit a ramshackle place like this one. The Thatched Tavern was not, by any means, a hovel, but it was no palace either. Its patrons were a motley lot, ranging from the upper echelons of household servants to the odd student as well as a plethora of theater people from nearby
Drury Lane. As for the gambling, it was desultory, and rarely for high stakes.

For their purposes, the tavern was an ideal rendezvous. There was much coming and going. Neither Flynn's untutored tongue nor her cultured accents would rouse anyone's suspicions. Flynn was, in actual fact, a footman. She was passing herself off as an actress, or an aspiring actress to be precise. The most compelling reason for choosing The Thatched Tavern for their rendezvous, however, was because it sat above a secret Roman drain which led to a labyrinth of underground passages. Flynn knew these underground passages like the back of his hand.

Raynor's setting was far different from this. He was a professional gambler, and kept a gaming house, a magnificent place just off Fleet
Street where, it was rumored, fortunes were won and lost every night on the turn of a card. The patrons of his establishment, among them her own brothers, were drawn from the wealthy upper classes.

Raynor was so out of place here that Serena's mind worried at it like a dog with a bone. She had good reason to be worried. At any moment, their "passenger" would be delivered, and it was their job to transport him to a safe house, close to the docks, where her younger brother, Clive, was waiting for them. At first light, weather permitting, their "passenger" would be aboard ship taking sail for
France and freedom.

That thought put her in mind of something else she remembered about
Julian Raynor, or Major Raynor as he was generally known. The man was credited with being something of a war hero. His daring exploits at
Prestonpans were almost legendary. Some said that if there had been more like him on the field that day, government forces would have crushed the Rebellion that much sooner, and there would have been a

He was an enemy of the Rebellion, and that made him her enemy too. If he once got wind of their real purpose in being here this evening, it could prove catastrophic not only for their "passenger," but for
Clive, Flynn, and herself also. Aiding and abetting Jacobite fugitives was still a capital offense.

For a fleeting moment, Stephen's face swam before her eyes. The thought of Prestonpans, where Raynor had won such glory for himself,
never failed to revive the old memories, the old ache. At Prestonpans, Stephen had cruelly perished, and all her dreams with him. It was entirely possible that it was Raynor's hand that had cut down her betrothed.

No good could be served by perpetuating the old hatreds. She understood this. She accepted that the Cause was lost. But so long as the authorities hunted down Jacobite fugitives as if they were vermin, there was still something to fight for. Her own father was one of the lucky ones. When the Rebellion failed, he had managed to escape to France, where he now languished. Until amnesty was offered to all Jacobites with a price on their heads, their escape route must remain open.

From the corner of her eye, she saw Raynor adjust the angle of his chair, as though to get a better view of her table. Why was he here?
What was he doing watching their table? She fervently hoped that it was Cassie who had caught his eye, and not herself or Flynn. Cassie might have been playing to the gallery, so animated were her expressions and gestures. Evidently, she was playing up to Raynor,
hoping to attract his interest. Flynn, on the other hand, looked perfectly unremarkable. In his powdered toupee and wire-rimmed spectacles, he had aged ten years. No one would have taken him for the flamboyant young chairman who was forever getting into fisticuffs with other chairman when their sedans got in his way. Her own getup was equally deceiving. According to Flynn, the black wash in her hair and the powder and paint had completely transformed her.

If they were caught, their safest course lay in sticking as closely to the truth as they dared. It was not unknown for ladies of fashion to risk their reputations in their search for novelty and amusement.
Her presence here might cause a brief scandal, nothing more. The real danger lay when she and Flynn were in possession of their "passenger." The sooner he was delivered, the better it would be for all concerned.

Apart from Raynor's presence, things were going according to plan.
With a quick, meaningful glance in Flynn's direction, touching her little finger to the curl on her brow, she signaled that it was time to move on. The next hand must be their last.

It was her turn to deal. There was a time when she would have invented any pretext to avoid this chore. She'd had a year of nights in places like this one to hone her skills. Flexing her fingers, she skillfully sliced and cut the cards, then quickly dealt each player a hand. Her eyes lifted without volition, and were caught and held by Raynor's inflexible stare.

The fine hairs on the back of Serena's neck rose in foreboding. Oh
God, she knew when she first saw him that there was going to be trouble. Swallowing, dragging her eyes away, she threw out her first card.

She played as if her life depended on it, not because she wanted to win, but because she couldn't help herself, not when Raynor's gaze was fixed on her, and she was sure, now, that she was the one he had singled out. Winning, in this company, was easy. It was losing that took all her powers of concentration. When she took every trick,
Flynn slanted her a warning frown. She knew what that signified. The last thing they wanted was to draw attention to themselves, and there would be plenty of attention if she was suspected of being a cardsharp. Win a few, lose a few, that was the strategy they followed. It wasn't as though the card-playing were essential. It was a means of fitting in with the crowd until their "passenger" should arrive. By sheer force of will, she managed to lose the last two tricks. Then the game was over, and as Cassie and her young actor became involved in a heated lovers' tiff, she and Flynn pocketed their winnings.

By this time, alarm was pumping blood to every pulse point in her body. Flynn recognized her tension and managed a quiet, "What is it?"

It was nothing. It was everything. It was Julian Raynor. She shook her head.

She was aware of the door opening to admit a newcomer, aware of the leather-bound volume the young man clutched to his bosom; she was aware of Flynn idling his way to the door to engage the newcomer in conversation; but most of all she was excruciatingly aware of Julian
Raynor rising and beckoning with one finger, summoning her to his table.

Though her temper flared at the arrogant gesture, she was in no position to antagonize him. She picked up her feathered cape and slowly sauntered over.

"Sit down." He indicated the empty chair he was holding. His voice carried a note of amused interest. His look was one he might have bestowed on a piece of prime horseflesh he was intending to purchase.

Through the sweep of her blackened lashes, Serena made her own appraisal. He was tall, too tall for her comfort. His dark hair was lightly powdered and tied in back with a ribbon. The lace at his throat and wrists, though of the best quality, was not lavish. His blue silk coat, embroidered at the edges and on the great turn-back cuffs with silver thread, hugged his broad shoulders. He wasn't handsome as her brothers, Jeremy and Clive, were handsome. This man's looks were too harsh. Some might have called him the epitome of elegance. Serena could find no fault with his appearance. What she mistrusted was the glitter of some nameless masculine emotion in those silver-gray eyes. It made her skin prickle. As for his manners,
they verged on the insolent. More than ever, she was convinced that her first impression of Julian Raynor was correct.

It was then that Serena remembered something else she had heard about
Julian Raynor. There were rumors of duels, and women, scores of women, and debauchery on a scale she could not imagine. She could well believe it. This man was dangerous.

This was not the time to put him in his place. The situation called for tact and caution, though neither were her strong points.

"Major Raynor, is it not?" she said, and smiled pleasantly. "You do me too much honor, sir."

She glanced idly over her shoulder, hoping to summon Cassie to her.
One quick look told her that her newfound "friend" was leaving the tavern in high dudgeon. Swallowing a sigh, Serena turned to face the enemy.

One dark brow was lifted in cynical mockery. "You had me fooled for a time there, ma'am, but now I am on to you," he said.

Her mind reeling with the shock of his words, Serena slowly sank into the chair he held for her.

"First, allow me to say that you play remarkable well for an amateur." He bowed over her hand, then seated himself on the other side of the table.

"Thank you," she answered numbly.

"But cards are not precisely your game, are they?"

She dropped her lashes to conceal the stark terror his words had evoked. "I don't know what you mean."

"I think you do. I think you knew, or guessed, that I wouldn't be able to take my eyes off you if I suspected you were a cheat. And it worked."

"Cheat?" repeated Serena carefully. The word she was in terror of hearing was traitor.

He leaned forward, and she caught the gleam of laughter in his eyes.
"Your ploy succeeded, as you can see. Shall we drink to the occasion?" Signaling to one of the serving wenches, he ordered a bottle of claret.

It was becoming clear to Serena that Julian Raynor had no idea of her real reason for being here. Her alarm abating a little, she steered her eyes casually in Flynn's direction and noted that he had drawn their "passenger" into the shadows while he waited for her to join them.

She could well imagine what was going through Flynn's mind. He would be cursing her for endangering herself by even being here this evening. They never could see eye to eye on this. Flynn regarded
Serena's part in their mission as unnecessary, and he would have preferred to handle things by himself. This Serena would not allow since she knew Flynn's heart wasn't in it. He was involved because she was involved. It would be unscrupulous to let him take all the risks.

Her eyes returned to Raynor. Though he was relaxed and smiling, her first impression of him lingered, and she decided on instinct not to provoke him by refusing to drink the wine he was pouring out for her.
"I wasn't cheating," she said.

"Oh, I know that now. Haven't I just said so?"

"But . . . what made you think that I was?"

"The beauty patch, the little curl on your brow, and the way you fingered them. These are the props and methods of the rank novice."

Flynn would have said that she was indulging a vulgar taste for melodrama. He had no use for the signals she had invented, and so he had told her.

In spite of her uneasiness, she managed an arch smile. "Perhaps I was distracted?"

"And perhaps you are a very clever woman."

His eyes smiled into hers as if, thought Serena, they shared a secret joke. Not wanting to pursue this dangerous subject, promising herself that from now on she would listen to Flynn, she raised her glass to her lips. "What is the occasion we are drinking to?" she asked.

His eyes teased her wickedly. "To our better acquaintance," he said,
"Miss . . . what is your name, by the by?"

She had her answer ready. "Victoria," she said at once. It was a name she had always liked, even as a child, and one that she thought was more appropriate to her nature than the insipid. "Victoria
Noble. An actress by profession," she threw in casually, trying to establish the role she had adopted.

"An actress? Where are you playing?"

She was prepared for this question. Her little mouth trembled, and her eyes slid away before lifting to look deeply into his. "An actress of sorts is what I should have said. You know how it is." Her shrug was eloquent. "There are more actresses than there are parts to be had."

"Say no more, Miss Noble. I understand your position perfectly."

A ripple of unease ran up her spine. She knew an innuendo when she heard one. Did he perhaps know more than she suspected? Then why was he smiling at her and not calling for a magistrate?

Under cover of drinking her wine, she sent her gaze in search of
Flynn. There was no sign of him or their "passenger." This was serious. Flynn would not leave her unprotected unless an emergency forced him to. In spite of her fear of Raynor, it was time to decamp.

She set down her glass and made a move to rise. "The hour grows late," she said, "and"—she stifled a yawn behind her hand—"alas, I
am excessively fatigued."

Laughing, with the swiftness of a striking cobra, he had her by the wrist. "I like an eager wench. But sweet, allow me a little time to set the stage." To her blank look, he elaborated. "I have yet to bespeak a room for us. Drink your wine. This won't take a moment."

"A . . . bespeak a room for us?"

"If not here, somewhere else. Oh, did you think that I would take you to my gaming house? Hardly. I have to live there, and I should prefer a little more privacy."

When his meaning finally became clear to her, she did not know whether she wanted to stamp her foot and spit on him, or dissolve in a fit of the giggles. That Julian Raynor, a rake of the first magnitude, should have mistaken the daughter of Sir Robert Ward for a common doxy! It was hilarious. It was outrageous. She must be a better actress than she knew.

She watched him go with supreme complacency. As soon as the doors had closed upon him, she was on her feet, reaching for her feathered cape. Disregarding the protests of the waiters and serving girls, Serena entered the kitchens. As she advanced toward the door she took to be the back exit, it opened, and several uniformed militiamen pushed into the tavern. She heard the word Jacobite and did an about-turn.

Her heart was beating so furiously, she could hardly catch her breath. In all the confusion of thoughts that raced through her brain, one stood out starkly. They had been betrayed.

Forcing the hysteria to recede, she tried to take stock of the situation. Flynn must have heard or seen something while she was in conversation with Julian Raynor. They had always known that the most perilous part of their mission was when they collected their
"passenger." Once they went underground, as Flynn would have it, no one would find them in that labyrinth. Praying that Flynn had not delayed on her account, she pushed through the door to the front entrance.

From here, she could see the lanterns outside, and beneath them, a detail of militia assembling on the pavement. Her eyes flicked to the staircase. When an arm circled her waist, she cried out in panic.

"It's only me. Who were you expecting?"

It was Raynor's voice, laced, as always, with that intolerable masculine amusement. From the corner of her eye, she saw someone try to leave the tavern only to be turned back by one of the militia. She could take her chances with the militia, or she could take her chances with Julian Raynor.

She looked up at him, her eyes wide and unfaltering. He was a gamester, but that did not mean he was an unprincipled rogue.
According to her brother Jeremy, Raynor was one of the best. Stifling her misgivings, with one eye on His Majesty's militia, she allowed
Raynor to lead her to the staircase.

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 5 of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 31, 2003

    this was a gr8 book !!!

    i loved this book. the period was different than many of her others and the charecters and plot was riviting their were many twists and turns and i didsn't figure out the bad guy untill the last moment.

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