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The Barrett Family Series (Book Two)
By Andrea Kane
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1994 Andrea Kane
All rights reserved.
London, England March 1815
In walked the man of her dreams.
Samantha stared, transfixed, as the vision stepped directly from the pages of her latest Gothic romance into the noisy, smoke-filled tavern.
He had arrived ... her long-awaited hero.
It mattered not that he was a total stranger to her, nor that he patronized so seedy an establishment as this, nor that he pointedly displayed an ominous-looking knife handle from the top of one muddied Hessian boot. All that mattered was his towering height, his thick black hair, his uncompromising jaw, his piercing gray eyes. And that dimple ... it was just where she'd always known it would be; in his left cheek. It flashed briefly as he nodded a greeting to someone, then vanished into the taut lines of his face.
Yes, it was irrefutably he—the hero of all her fantasies.
Breathless and eager, Samantha watched as he carelessly swung off his greatcoat, shaking rivulets of rain from it with swift, purposeful strokes. Simultaneously, he surveyed the room, his cool gaze taking in the shoddy furnishings and seedy occupants in one enveloping glance.
He moved forward, commanding and sure, coming closer to where Sammy sat—close enough so she could see the drops of water glistening in his hair, causing the ends to curl a bit at the nape. He seemed to be looking for someone.
Instead, he found her.
His dark brows rose, not with instantaneous, adoring surrender, but with decided, disapproving surprise.
Without hesitating, Sammy flashed him a smile, drinking in his splendid, chiseled features and exciting, leashed power. He was just as she had imagined him—no, better.
Her heart tightened in her chest as he approached her.
"What despicable cad deserted you here, little one?"
"Pardon me?" Sammy blinked in confusion.
With apparent disgust, her hero scanned the room. "You needn't feel ashamed. Just tell me what unscrupulous blackguard accompanied you to such a place, then abandoned you."
"Oh, nothing like that, sir." Sammy assured him brightly. "Actually, it was I who spotted this establishment from my carriage window and chose to stop here. Given the circumstances, it seemed the best place ..."
"The best place ... to what?" He looked censuring now, his gray eyes chilling, stormier than the skies that heralded tonight's downpour. "Is this your idea of an evening adventure? If so, you've either lost your way or your mind! Tell me, have you looked about you? I seriously doubt that you have, else you would have bolted. And, thankfully, it seems that these low-lifes have yet to spot you as prey. Had they done so, I assure you that your elegant gown would have long since been tossed up over your foolish, beautiful head!"
Sammy sucked in her breath. This wasn't at all the way she'd envisioned their first meeting.
Following her hero's icy, pointed gaze, she surveyed the dimly lit tavern, trying to see what was upsetting him so. True, the tables were a bit shabby, even broken in spots, and the pungent smell of gin—mixed with some other, unrecognizable foul odor—permeated the room. And, she had to admit, the occupants of the tavern did need to shave ... as well as to bathe. Still, they'd shown no signs of harming or even approaching her; so why was her hero hinting at violence?
"I don't know what you mean, sir," she confessed, bewildered. "Despite their rather coarse attire and unpolished manners, the gentlemen here have made no improper advances toward me. They are merely enjoying their spirits and each other's company."
The stranger gaped in utter disbelief. "Gentlemen?" he managed. Leaning forward, he lowered his voice to a muffled hiss. "Sheltered innocent, what you see are pickpockets, highwaymen, and drunks ... and an occasional murderer or two." He straightened, emphatic and fierce. "This is Boydry's—as unsavory a pub as they come—not the bloody Clarendon Hotel!"
"Really?" Samantha was finding it very difficult to share the intensity of his tirade. She was too busy drowning in the hypnotic spell of his towering presence. And, after all, he was only trying to protect her—the foremost duty of a true hero.
"If such is the case, then why are you here?" she asked, half tempted to stroke the hard, uncompromising line of his jaw. "You don't appear unsavory to me."
His dimple flickered in response. "Don't I? That is only because you don't know me."
"No ... but I'd like to."
He blinked. "You'd like to"
"Oh yes. Don't you see?" Sammy leaned forward, making an animated sweep with her hands. "It's as if Mrs. Radcliffe had penned it; a young woman alone ... darkness ... danger." A pause. "Of course I would have preferred a castle turret to a tavern"—she gave a philosophical shrug—"nevertheless, you've arrived ... and you're exactly as I pictured you."
"You have lost your mind," he muttered.
"My lady, it's no use."
A portly gentleman with a stricken expression interrupted them. Hastening over, he mopped sheets of rain from his saturated face with a neatly folded, if soggy, handkerchief.
"I've tried to hail a half-dozen carriages. None of their drivers can even see me through this downpour. We shall have to wait until the rain relents. Our only other choice is for me to make my way farther into Town to seek help, and I refuse to leave you alone in"—he scanned the rear of the tavern and shuddered—"this place." Abruptly, he tensed, evidently becoming aware that they were not alone. With great dignity he turned to cast a disparaging look at the man standing beside Samantha, a look that transformed into reserved politeness as recognition dawned on his weathered face. "Well ... good evening, my lord."
The stranger inclined his head in surprise. "Smithers! What on earth are you doing at Boydry's? In fact, why have you even ventured from Allonshire on a night like tonight?"
"We are on our way to the Barrett's London Town house," the older man replied tersely. "It was barely drizzling when we departed from Allonshire. A quarter hour later, the heavens opened up. As bad luck would have it, one of our carriage wheels broke. We had no choice but to seek shelter—and assistance—at the nearest sanctuary; which, unfortunately, happened to be here."
"We?" The handsome stranger glanced expectantly toward the doorway. "Is the duke with you, then?"
"No, my lord. His Grace is at home with the duchess. The birth of their second child is imminent ... hardly a time to travel. He has entrusted Lady Samantha into my care."
"Lady Samantha." Startled gray eyes darted back to Sammy, a warm golden light melting the chill from their frosty depths. "This is little Samantha? What happened to the tot with chocolate on her chin?"
Samantha blushed. "She grew up," she returned quickly, shifting in her seat. Taken aback by this unexpected turn of events, Sammy forced herself to regain control. "Smitty ..." She turned to her uneasy companion. "I'm ready for a proper introduction."
"Lady Samantha, permit me to introduce the Earl of Gresham." Smitty's tone clearly indicated that introducing the earl to Samantha was about as desirable as emptying a chamber pot. "You were little more than a babe when last you met—far too young to recall your casual acquaintance."
The Earl of Gresham.
Samantha might not recall their acquaintance, but she knew that name well. It appeared repeatedly in the newspapers, and had for years, both in the socials and the headlines.
Remington Worth—the Earl of Gresham—initially a promising protégé to the legendary Admiral Nelson, eventually the Royal Navy's youngest, most brilliant captain; hero of the Battle of Trafalgar, ingenious commander of the War of 1812. Renowned by sea as an undefeated, unyielding naval leader.
By land as London's most notorious rake and womanizer.
Sammy had no trouble understanding the latter. Remington Worth was dangerously exciting, dashing and forbidden—every bit a hero.
He was magnificent.
"Lord Gresham." Sammy gave him her hand, willing it to stop trembling as the earl brushed it with his lips. Ignoring Smitty's glowering disapproval, Sammy lifted questioning eyes to Gresham's. "You asked if the duke were with us. Are you a friend of Drake's?"
"Your brother's path and mine have crossed many times over the years, in business and socially," the earl answered smoothly. "I have nothing but the greatest respect for the duke ... and his trusted valet," he added, with a courteous nod in Smitty's direction.
Smitty's only response was a rather haughty sniff.
Apparently unbothered, Gresham released Sammy's hand and bowed. "Forgive my earlier rudeness, my lady. I had no idea who you were or why you were at Boydry's."
"As I said, we are on our way to the family Town house," Smitty supplied, his tone crisp. "This is to be Lady Samantha's first London Season."
"Is it?" Gresham's teeth gleamed—the smile, not of a besotted lover, but of an amused and indulgent uncle. "Well, we cannot have Lady Samantha miss one dazzling moment of her first Season." He turned to Smitty. "Let me have a look at your carriage. Perhaps I can be of some help."
Smitty appeared to be on the verge of refusing when, with a resigned sigh, he relented. "Fine. Thank you very much, my lord."
"Not at all." Gresham turned his hypnotic silvery gaze on Sammy again. "I'm afraid I must ask you to accompany us. I realize the weather is dreadful, but I cannot allow you to remain alone with these"—his lips twitched—"gentlemen."
Samantha was on her feet instantly. "Of course not, Lord Gresham. I would feel much safer with you."
Loudly, Smitty cleared his throat. "The carriage is out by the road, my lord."
Leaving his drenched greatcoat behind, the earl made his way back out of the tavern. Kneeling beside the deserted Barrett carriage, he noted that the left rear wheel was shattered beyond repair, leaving the regal coach tilted precariously along the flooded roadside.
"I had the footmen and driver ride the horses on ahead to seek help," Smitty informed the earl. Squinting through the ceaseless downpour, he shoved a shock of drenched white hair off his forehead. "That was nearly an hour ago. There's been no sign of them since."
"That doesn't surprise me," Gresham replied, frowning at the irreparable slivers of wood. He rose, his fine lawn shirt nearly transparent from the soaking it had already received. "Your carriage is going nowhere tonight," he announced. "The wheel cannot be fixed, even temporarily. I had hoped I could patch it well enough to take you the short distance to London, but 'tis impossible. I'm sorry."
Smitty shook his head in distress, turning to Lady Samantha to offer her comfort.
Vaguely, Sammy wondered why Smitty was regarding her with such regret. But the majority of her concentration was on her hero.
Never had she seen shoulders so broad, so incredibly muscled. Because the rain had molded his clothing to his body, she could make out his corded biceps, the strong tendons in his forearms.
The rippling columns of his thighs.
Despite the storm's chill, a fine sheen of perspiration broke out on Sammy's skin. What would it be like to touch him? she wondered. To kiss him? To be crushed in those powerful arms?
Samantha blinked. "P-Pardon me?"
Gresham assessed her with paternal concern, tucking a wet strand of hair behind her ear. "You and Smithers take my carriage and go on to your Town house."
Sammy's tremble had naught to do with the cold and everything to do with the warmth of his fingers.
The earl frowned. "You're shivering. You'll take ill if you don't get out of this storm. We cannot have that—you'll miss your first ball at Almack's." Turning, he strode back into the tavern, returning instantly with his coat, which he draped about Samantha's shoulders.
Dazedly, Sammy wondered if he noticed that his touch worsened her trembling threefold.
Evidently not. "There." Gresham peered through the rain, his expression intense. "Smithers, my driver has instructions to await me on that side street over there." He pointed. "Go and direct him to bring the carriage around. Tell him those are my orders. In the meantime, I'll collect whatever essentials you have in your coach, so that we can transfer them immediately and you can be on your way."
"My lord, I cannot ask that you—" Smitty protested.
"You didn't ask. I offered."
"Surely you did not intend to stay at this"—Smitty shuddered anew—"place."
One corner of Gresham's mouth lifted. "I'll have no trouble arranging for a ride home, I assure you. Tomorrow, I'll come by to collect my carriage ... and to deliver yours." He waved Smitty off. "Now do as I say."
"Yes, Smitty," Sammy interrupted. She had no intention of allowing her guardian's suffocating sense of protocol to undermine this rare opportunity to be alone with her hero. "Let's do as Lord Gresham says," she added pointedly.
Smitty grunted, but obeyed without further question. However, he paused once or twice to glower over his shoulder before walking off.
Knowing she hadn't a precious moment to waste, Sammy turned to gaze up at her hero. "Thank you for your coat," she whispered, hoping she'd inserted just the right sultry note in her voice.
"You're quite welcome. Keep it. Your gown is thin and offers little in the way of protection from the rain." Purposefully, he yanked open the carriage door. "Let's take only what you'll need—"
Before Gresham could finish his sentence, a small white ball of fur shot through the air and crashed into the hard wall of the earl's chest. Toppling to the ground, the tiny puppy began to whimper, trying to see through the wet strands of hair that hung in his eyes.
"Oh, Rascal, I'm sorry." Sammy bent to scoop up the wriggling pup, gathering his damp, shivering body inside the thick folds of Gresham's coat. "You must have been terrified alone in there. Forgive me."
"Is that a dog or a rodent of some kind?" Gresham inquired.
"A dog, of course!" Sammy replied, indignant. "He's a Maltese—bred for royalty, I'll have you know. Certainly not a rodent of any kind!"
Gresham cocked a brow. "Again, I beg your forgiveness, my lady. I did not mean to offend your pet."
Glancing at Rascal, Sammy's lips curved upward. "He does look a bit like a mouse," she admitted. "He's only three months old and still very tiny. But he'll grow to be hale and hardy."
"A veritable tiger, I'm certain." The earl's smile was infectious.
"I've read of you, my lord," Sammy blurted out.
"Have you? And what did your sources tell you?"
"That you're a hero; a brilliant leader—fearless and undefeated. You're also a terrible rogue, breaking hearts throughout England, leaving ruined women in your wake."
Gresham threw back his head and laughed. "So I'm both saint and sinner, am I?"
"So I've read."
"Tell me, imp," he touched his forefinger to the tip of her nose, "do you believe everything you read?"
"Only those things that are true." Her gaze fell on his strong, tanned finger. "And those things I will to be true."
"You're quite the romantic, are you not?"
"Quite." She licked raindrops from her lips.
Gresham watched the motion, his expression unreadable. Abruptly, he seized her arm, guiding her into the carriage. "We might as well amass things in here where it's dry. What else must go with you tonight?" He paused, staring amazedly at the stacks of books piled on the carriage seat. "What on earth ...?"
"My books." Sammy scooted past him, holding Rascal against her with one hand and gathering the novels with the other. "I must take them with me."
"Do you plan to read them all tonight?"
"No, but I don't know which ones I will read. So I cannot leave any behind. We can forfeit my clothing and other personal items. I'll make due with whatever Aunt Gertrude has at the Town house. But I must have my books."
Gresham shook his head. "You are astonishing. All right, imp. The books go with you." He began to gather them. "Who is Aunt Gertrude?"
"She's actually my great-aunt on my father's side," Sammy told him, stroking a volume of her newest Gothic romance. "Aunt Gertie is quite old, entirely deaf, and, if you ask me, a bit eccentric. However, given that Alexandria is very much with child, Aunt Gertrude will be my official chaperon this Season."
"Alexandria. Yes, I've met your brother's wife at several house parties. She's a beautiful woman."
"She's wonderful," Sammy answered fervently. "She's the best thing that ever happened to Drake. But then, love always is."
Excerpted from Samantha by Andrea Kane. Copyright © 1994 Andrea Kane. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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