Never Lie to a Lady
  • Never Lie to a Lady
  • Never Lie to a Lady

Never Lie to a Lady

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by Liz Carlyle
     
 

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In her dazzling new historical trilogy, New York Times bestselling author Liz Carlyle plunges readers into the steamy underworld of nineteenth-century London. Among the swirling glitter of English high society, a scandalous rogue gets more than he bargained for in the lady of his desires.

Lord Nash is a creature of the night — his wealth and

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Overview

In her dazzling new historical trilogy, New York Times bestselling author Liz Carlyle plunges readers into the steamy underworld of nineteenth-century London. Among the swirling glitter of English high society, a scandalous rogue gets more than he bargained for in the lady of his desires.

Lord Nash is a creature of the night — his wealth and title provide but a tenuous entrée into polite society. Notorious for his sophisticated manners and a dark, dashing elegance, rumors abound of the men he has bankrupted and the women he's left heartbroken. But when Nash leaves his lair for a rare foray into the ton, he faces a lure of temptation all his own — an extraordinary moment of passion with a mysterious lady in the moonlight — and an obsession that will lead him into a hellish world of smugglers, spies, and intrigue. And as for his damsel in disguise, the witty and beautiful Miss Xanthia Neville, he soon learns, is as unattainable as she is tempting. And now Nash must decide if she is also dangerous. . . .

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Liz Carlyle weaves passion and intrigue with a master's touch." — Karen Robards, New York Times bestselling author

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781416527145
Publisher:
Pocket Books
Publication date:
06/19/2007
Pages:
432
Sales rank:
771,228
Product dimensions:
4.18(w) x 6.75(h) x 1.20(d)

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

A Gala in Hanover Street

Spring 1828

Miss Xanthia Neville was thinking of having an affaire. Thinking of it quite vividly, in fact, as she watched the tide of handsome, elegantly attired gentlemen sweep their partners through the intricacies of the waltz. Cutaway coats and diaphanous skirts swirled and unfurled beneath the glow of a thousand candles. Champagne glasses clinked, and sidelong gazes lingered. Everyone was lighthearted. No one was alone.

Well, that was not quite true, was it? She was alone. At the great age of not-quite-thirty — a brittle precipice indeed — Xanthia was a confirmed spinster. Nonetheless, tonight she had worn red; the deepest, most daring shade of claret-colored velvet to be found in the whole of Pall Mall, as if doing so might send some subtle signal within the rarefied confines of Lord Sharpe's ballroom.

Ah, but perhaps she was just deluding herself. Perhaps she'd had too much of Sharpe's champagne. In this country, unmarried ladies did not have liaisons. They had weddings. Even her cynical-hearted brother would not tolerate a scandal. Moreover, Xanthia, the consummate negotiator, had no notion how one went about parlaying that sort of deal. She could finesse the flintiest of customs agents, consign cargo in three languages, and spot a thieving purser with a doctored manifest at fifty paces. But this — her personal life — so often felt beyond her.

So this romance of hers was just another fantasy. Another unattainable thing which, while painfully absent from her life, simply came at too great a price.

Was she lonely? She hardly knew. She knew only that her life had required hard choices — and she made them, for the most part, with her eyes open. Lord Sharpe's ballroom was awash in pretty, virginal debutantes. They were not wearing red. Life's many possibilities were still open to them. Xanthia was envious, and yet she would not have traded places with even the most beautiful amongst them.

She turned away from the ocean of beautiful men and pretty virgins and went out onto the terrace in search of solitude. The heels of her slippers sounded softly on the flagstones, until at last the strains of the orchestra faded, and the murmur of voices quieted. Even the illicit lovers had not ventured so deep into the gloom as this. Perhaps she ought not have, either — the English ton did seem to frown on the oddest things — but something in the silence drew her.

At the distant end of the terrace, Xanthia at last paused to lean against the brickwork and let her shoulders relax against the masonry, which still held a hint of heat from an unseasonably sunny day. She had been all of four months in London now, but never once had she been warm. She let her head tip back and her eyes close as she savored the faint heat, and swallowed the last of her champagne.

"Ah, if only I were the cause of that expression!" murmured a deep, rueful voice. "Rarely do I see a woman so enraptured — unless she is in bed with me."

Xanthia's eyes flew open on a faint gasp.

A tall, elegantly built man blocked the terrace before her, and even in the dark, she could feel the heat of his gaze drifting over her. She recognized him vaguely, for she had noticed him earlier, reclining languidly in a chair deep inside the cardroom — and she had seen the female heads turning as he left it, too. He was the sort of man who caught a woman's notice; not for his beauty, but for something far more primitive than that.

Xanthia lifted her chin. "Sharpe has a dreadful crush tonight," she said coolly. "I thought my escape had gone unobserved."

"Perhaps it did." His voice was a low rumble. "I could not say. I have been hiding out here all of a quarter hour myself." There was chagrin in his voice, which unexpectedly made her laugh.

He stepped fully into the shaft of moonlight and glanced down at her empty flute. "Sharpe has unimpeachable taste in champagne, does he not?" he murmured. "And your intriguing expression aside, my dear, I wonder if it wouldn't be prudent for you to return to the ballroom?"

Xanthia, however, caught neither his suggestion, nor its subtle implication, for she was absorbed in the study of his face. No, he definitely was not beautiful. Instead, his features held a remarkable ruthlessness, with a hawkish nose, a too-hard jaw, and extraordinary eyes, which were set at just the slightest angle. His hair was dark, and far too long to be fashionable. More disturbing still, there was just the slightest aura of danger about him. Inexplicably, Xanthia did not heed it.

"No," she said quietly. "No, I think I shall stay."

He lifted one of his solid-looking shoulders. "Suit yourself, my dear," he said. "You looked like a cat soaking up warmth just now. Are you cold?"

Fleetingly, Xanthia closed her eyes and thought of the Bajan sun. "I am always cold," she answered. "I haven't been warm in an age."

"What a pity." He leaned nearer and offered his hand. "I believe I have not had the pleasure, ma'am. In fact, I am quite persuaded you are new to Town."

She looked down at his hand, but did not take it. "And do you know everyone?"

"It is my business to do so," he said simply.

"Indeed?" Xanthia set her glass down atop a nearby baluster. "What sort of business are you in?"

"The business of knowing people."

"Ah, a man of mystery," she answered a little drolly. "And from whom, I wonder, are you hiding? An angry husband? A woman scorned? Or that little coterie of matchmaking mammas which keeps eyeing you so greedily?"

He flashed a crooked, rueful smile. "Noticed that, did you?" he asked. "It's devilish awkward, really. They seem to keep expecting me to — ah, but never mind that."

She looked at him intently. "Expectations," she murmured. "Yes, that is the very trouble, isn't it? People are so very reluctant to surrender them, are they not? We are all expected to do certain things, make certain choices — and when we do not, well, we are accounted stubborn. Or eccentric. Or that most horrid euphemism of all — difficult. Why is that, I wonder?"

"Why indeed?" he murmured. The man's gaze held hers steadily. "I wonder, my dear — are you the sort of woman who does the unexpected? You strike me as being...oh, I don't know — a little different, perhaps, from those other people whirling about the ballroom."

Those other people.

With those three simple words, he seemed to draw a dark and certain line between the two of them and — well, everyone else. He was not like them, either. She sensed it. A sudden frisson of some unfathomable emotion slid down her spine. For an instant, it was as if he looked not at her, but at something deeper. His gaze was watchful. Assessing. And yet understanding, all at once.

But what nonsense that was. What was she doing here in the dark, chatting with a perfect stranger?

His slashing black eyebrows went up a notch. "You have grown very quiet, my dear."

"I fear I have nothing of interest to say." Xanthia relaxed against the brickwork again. "I lead a rather austere life and do not generally go about in society."

"Nor do I," he confessed, dropping his voice. "And yet...here we are."

He leaned so near she could smell his cologne, an intriguing combination of smoke and citrus. His gaze caught hers again, more heated now, and Xanthia felt suddenly as if the stone portico beneath her feet had shifted. Even in the dark, his eyes seemed to glitter. "I beg your pardon," she said a little breathlessly. "You...you are wearing amber oil, are you not?"

He inclined his head. "Amongst other things."

"And neroli," she said. "But the amber — it is quite a rare scent."

He looked vaguely pleased. "I am surprised you know it."

"I have some knowledge of spices and oils."

"Have you indeed?" he murmured. "My perfumer in St. James imports it for me. Do you like it?"

"I am not quite sure," she said honestly.

"Then I shan't wear it tomorrow."

"Tomorrow?"

"When I call on you," he said. "By the way, my dear, do you mean to tell me your name? Just the name of your husband will do. That way, I can ascertain his club hours and determine when he is most apt to be out."

"I do not know your name," she said archly. "But I see that you are quite forward."

"Yes, well, being backward gets one nowhere, does it?" he suggested, smiling.

Xanthia gave a bitter laugh. "Indeed, it does not," she answered. "I learnt that much the hard way."

He watched her warily for a moment. "No, you do not look the shy, retiring type," he said in a musing tone. "Tell me, my dear, are you as bold as that red dress you are wearing might suggest?"

"In some situations, yes," she confessed, holding his gaze. "If there is something one wants badly, one must often be bold."

Suddenly, he slid one hand beneath her elbow, and it was as if something electric passed between them. "You are a most intriguing woman, my dear." His voice was raspy in the gloom. "Indeed, it has been a very long time since I felt . . . well, intrigued."

"Perhaps I understand," Xanthia found herself saying. "I wish we could... oh, never mind. I am very foolish, I think. Perhaps I ought to go."

But his hand on her arm stilled her. "What?" he murmured. "What do you wish, my dear? If it is within my power to fulfill your desire, it would be my greatest pleasure."

His words left her shivering. "No, it was nothing," she answered. "You are a dangerously charming man, sir. I think I ought not linger here."

"Wait," he said, pulling her to him. "Let us make a bargain, my dear. I shall tell you my name — and my line of business. And in exchange, you will — " He paused, and let his eyes run over her again.

Xanthia was undone by the suspense. "What?"

"You will kiss me," he commanded. "And not some sisterly peck, by God."

Xanthia's eyes widened, but she was inordinately curious. After all, it was she who had started this silly game of cat and mouse. But more foolish, even, than that, she did wish to kiss him. To feel that hard, harsh mouth settle over hers, and —

He did not await permission. His hands grasped her shoulders, drawing her abruptly against him as his lips molded firmly over hers. He made no pretext of gentleness, or of polite restraint, opening his mouth over hers, and stroking his tongue hungrily across her lips. Desire surged, and Xanthia opened beneath him, allowing him to explore the depths of her mouth with his slow, sensual strokes.

She felt suddenly alive, yet almost enervated in his embrace, as if she had no will of her own. His wish was hers; his quickening desire echoed her own. It had been so long since she had been kissed by anyone — and never had she been kissed like this. She twined her arms round his neck and allowed his hands to roam restlessly over her, setting her skin to shivering. Their tongues entwined as their breath quickened. He tasted of champagne and raw lust. The smoky scent of his cologne grew to a dizzying intensity as his skin heated. Xanthia was caught up in his madness, pressing her body almost shamelessly against his and allowing his roaming hands and hungry mouth a lover's every intimacy.

"Good God, this is madness," she heard herself say, but it was distant. Disembodied.

"Yes, a glorious madness," he murmured.

His hand was on her hip now, erotically circling the weight of it through the velvet of her gown. Another inch lower, and he was lifting her urgently against him. There was no mistaking the throbbing ridge of his arousal, nor of his intent. Xanthia rose greedily onto her tiptoes, pressing herself to him as she ached for something dangerous.

Somehow, he drew up the fabric of her skirt and slipped his hand beneath, caressing the swell of her hips, stroking suggestively. Over and over he caressed her there. Then, without lifting his mouth away, he urged her firmly against the brick wall and eased the hand between them, delving lower and lower.

Xanthia managed to tear her mouth from his. "Wait, I — "

"We are all alone, my dear," he reassured her between the little kisses he planted along her jaw. "I am sure of it. Just trust me."

His words melted over her. Foolishly, she gave in to him; ached for him with a need she had never known. This really was madness. But on a soft sound of surrender, Xanthia returned her mouth to his, and let the dark stranger have his way. And yet, in this wild, timeless moment, he did not seem a stranger. He knew her; knew just where to touch her. His palm was warm through the thin lawn of her drawers. Without lifting his mouth from hers, he gave a deep, hungry groan and caressed her there, in her most private place. Like a wanton, Xanthia surrendered, her knees going weak. His stroke became more urgent, and then she was panting for him, reveling in each delicate stroke as her need ratcheted up, and her body began to ache.

She was going to explode. She could not bear it. The ache was bone- deep and shuddering now. She felt reality edge away, felt the dark of night swirl about them, and, suddenly, she was frightened. Dear God, had she lost her mind?

He pressed his mouth to her ear and sucked lightly at her lobe. "Give in to it, my dear," he murmured, nipping lightly at her flesh. "Good Lord, have you any idea how beautiful you are just now?"

"I — I think..." Xanthia was still shaking. "Oh, please. I think...we must stop."

He groaned as if in pain, but his hand stilled.

"Stop," she said again, as much to herself as to him.

Lightly, he let his forehead touch hers. "Must we, my dear?" His words were thick. "Come, slip away with me. Spend the evening in my bed. I promise to pleasure you until morning — and we can do anything your imagination might conjure up."

She shook her head, her hair scrubbing against the brickwork. "I dare not," she said. "I can't think what has come over me. You...you must already think me some sort of whore."

He was already smoothing her skirts back down, his touch gentle. "What I think is that you are a sensual woman with a well of unslaked needs," he murmured, lightly kissing her cheek. "And that you should let me rectify that regrettable circumstance."

She gave a short, sharp laugh. "Dear God, I must be mad," she murmured. "I was half-considering it — and I do not even know who you are!"

His eyes still simmering with desire, he stepped back, and sketched her a surprisingly formal bow. "I am called Nash," he said quietly. "Gamester and professional sybarite, at your service, ma'am."

Professional sybarite?

The appalling recklessness of what she had just done was swiftly sinking in. Xanthia still couldn't catch her breath. She opened her mouth to speak, but no sound came out. And suddenly, she did perhaps the most idiotic, most humiliating thing a woman could have done. She turned and ran.

She dashed along the terrace, her mind in a panic. But there was nothing. No footfalls. No shouts. The light spilling from the ballroom was but a few yards away. Just short of the door, she somehow found the presence of mind to stop to tidy her hair and right her clothing. Still no sound. He was not following, thank God.

What had she been thinking? Her breath still rough, Xanthia set her hand flat against the outer window frame and struggled to turn her legs from jelly into something substantial enough to gracefully walk on. Well. She had wanted to do something slightly scandalous. And she certainly had. She had allowed a strange man to kiss her senseless — and had very nearly allowed him a vast deal more than that. And now, absent the warm strength of his body, she felt colder than ever and uncharacteristically shaken.

Furious with herself, Xanthia stiffened her spine and plunged into the crowded ballroom, an artificial smile plastered upon her face. Dear God, what a fool she was. It was one thing to drink a little too much champagne and wallow in mawkish fantasies, and quite another to behave brazenly with a common stranger — or, in Mr. Nash's case, a most uncommon one. But however intriguing he was, there was nothing metaphysical between them. He had not looked into her eyes and seen her soul, for pity's sake. How had she conjured up such a notion? Celibacy must be affecting her brain.

Well, there was nothing left to do but pray to God that Nash was a gentleman. Oh, Xanthia was not afraid of gossip for her own sake, but there was her brother Kieran to think about. He might yet turn his life around. And there was her much-loved niece, Martinique. Lord and Lady Sharpe, cousins whom she adored, and their daughter Louisa, whose come-out ball this was. Xanthia's behavior could reflect badly on all of them.

Somehow, she managed to nod to the few people she knew as she passed through the crowd. She wondered if she looked like some just-tumbled wanton, but no one she passed raised so much as an eyebrow. The panic was fading now, but the memory of his touch was not. Dear heaven, she really must find her brother and ask him to see her home, before she did something unutterably foolish — like search out Mr. Nash, and toss him her garter.

With a hand which still shook, Xanthia stopped a passing footman to ask Kieran's whereabouts. The footman bowed, resplendent in his deep blue livery. "Lord Rothewell is in the cardroom, ma'am."

Xanthia smiled politely. "Kindly tell him I should like to go now."

She really did not want to disturb her brother's gaming, but it was either that, or remain here and risk running into Mr. Nash again. Suddenly, amidst all the confusion, it struck her. Mr. Nash still did not know her name. She had bolted before giving it to him, and he had not followed her. It was as if he had lost interest.

Perhaps he had. Perhaps she was not as skilled at kissing as she had hoped? The thought was a little lowering. But indeed, it was all for the best. Mr. Nash did not know her name, and she barely knew his. They would almost certainly never lay eyes on one another again, for she did not go about in society — indeed, she scarce had the time — and Mr. Nash had possessed the unqualified arrogance of a man who knew his place in the haut monde. And unless Xanthia missed her guess, it was very high up indeed. A sense of mild relief swept over her, restoring her composure.

In the entrance hall, Lady Sharpe was saying good-bye to her sister-in-law. Mrs. Ambrose kissed Xanthia effusively on both cheeks. "Xanthia, my dear, you really must get out more," she said. "You are looking perfectly colorless."

"How charitable of you to concern yourself," said Xanthia politely. "By the way, have you seen Kieran?"

Mrs. Ambrose flashed an acerbic smile. "I left him in the cardroom," she answered. "He is in one of his moods."

Lady Sharpe laughed aloud as soon as her sister-in-law had gone. "What a cat she is, Zee," she whispered as she set her lips to Xanthia's cheek. "And how flattered I am that my reclusive relations have actually deigned to attend my little ball."

"Oh, Pamela, we could not possibly miss Louisa's come-out." Xanthia leaned in to embrace her. But at that very moment, Lady Sharpe went a little limp and slumped almost imperceptibly against her.

Startled, Xanthia slid an arm awkwardly beneath her cousin's elbow. "Pamela?" she said sharply. Then, to the footman, "A chair, if you please! And her maid. Fetch her at once."

A chair was brought in an instant, and Lady Sharpe collapsed into it most gratefully. "The crush and the excitement," she explained as Xanthia snapped open her fan and knelt. "Oh, thank you! That breeze is most restorative. Yes, I've worn myself a little thin, I daresay. Oh, but please do not tell Sharpe."

Just then, Xanthia's brother appeared. "Pamela?" he said sharply. "You look most unwell."

Lady Sharpe turned pink. "It is just the heat," she said. "And perhaps my age, Kieran. Now pray do not ask me any more questions, or I vow I shall answer them and utterly mortify you."

Kieran had the good grace to blush and go at once in search of their carriage. As soon as Lady Sharpe's maid arrived, Xanthia stood. "I do not like your color, Pamela," she said, reluctant to leave her. "But there! I sound like Mrs. Ambrose, do I not?"

Lady Sharpe looked up sheepishly. "Not without reason," she muttered. "I am sorry to have given you such a turn."

"But you have." Xanthia reached down to squeeze her hand. "Which is why you shall see me again tomorrow. Shall we say tea, my dear, at three-ish?"

Copyright © 2007 by Susan Woodhouse

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