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Surprising Lord Jackby Sally MacKenzie
Frances Hadley has managed her family's estate for years. So why can't she request her own dowry? She'll have to go to London herself and knock some sense into the men interfering in her life. With the nonsense she's dealt with lately, though, there's no way she's going as a woman. A pair of breeches and a quick chop of her red curls,/b>… See more details below
Frances Hadley has managed her family's estate for years. So why can't she request her own dowry? She'll have to go to London herself and knock some sense into the men interfering in her life. With the nonsense she's dealt with lately, though, there's no way she's going as a woman. A pair of breeches and a quick chop of her red curls, and she'll have much less to worry about. . .
Jack Valentine, third son of the famous Duchess of Love, is through being pursued by pushy young ladies. One particularly determined miss has run him out of his own house party. Luckily the inn has one bed leftJack just has to share with a rather entertaining red-headed youth. Perhaps the two of them should ride to London together. It will make a pleasant escape from his mother's matchmaking melodrama!
"Make room on your keeper shelf for Sally MacKenzie's Duchess of Love series!" Elizabeth Hoyt, New York Times bestselling author
Praise for Bedding Lord Ned
"An engaging tale that balances greed, jealousy, and malice with humor and sweetness. . .readers will cheer." Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW
"MacKenzie blends a touch of poignancy with just the right amount of humor into this delightful love story." RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars
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Surprising Lord Jack
By Sally MacKenzie
ZEBRA BOOKSCopyright © 2013 Sally MacKenzie
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAppearances can be deceiving. —Venus's Love Notes
Miss Frances Hadley staggered up to the Crowing Cock's weather-beaten door, her legs, backside, and feet throbbing with each step.
Blast it, men rode astride all the time. How could she have guessed the experience would be so painful? And having to walk the last half mile in Frederick's old boots hadn't helped. Damn icy roads.
She took a deep breath of the sharp, winter air. And if Daisy was lame—
She scowled at the door. If her horse was lame, she'd figure out another way to get to London. Hell, she'd walk if she had to. She was not going home to Landsford. To think Aunt Viola had been going to help Mr. Littleton with his nefarious scheme—
Oh! Every time she thought about it, she wanted to hit something—or someone.
She put her hand on the door. The drunken male laughter was so loud she could hear it out here. Pot-valiant oafs! At least drunkards were even less likely than sober men to see through her disguise. She almost hoped one of them would approach her. She'd take great delight in bloodying his nose.
She shoved open the door and was hit by a cacophony of voices and the stench of spilled ale, smoke, and too many sweaty male bodies. A barmaid, burdened with six or seven mugs of ale, rushed out of a room to her left.
"Where can I see about a bed for the night?" Frances had to shout to make herself heard. She had a deep voice for a woman, but was it deep enough? Apparently. The girl barely glanced at her.
"See Mr. Findley," she said without breaking stride, jerking her head back at the room she'd just left, "but we're full up."
Oh, damn. Frances's stomach plummeted.
She would not despair. If worse came to worst, she'd find a corner of the common room and sleep there. Or perhaps the innkeeper would let her stay in the stables. Even if Daisy were able to carry her, she could not go any farther. Night was coming on.
She went through the narrow doorway. A stout man with a bald head and an equally stout, gray-haired woman were sitting at a scarred wooden table, eating their dinner. Frances inhaled. Mutton and potatoes. Not her favorite dishes, but she was so hungry, the food smelled like ambrosia.
"Tonight's the duchess's ball, Archie," the woman was saying. She waved a bite of mutton at him. "Do you think Her Grace found a match for Lord Ned or Lord Jack this year?"
Archie snorted. "Don't know why this year should be any different than last year or the year before, Madge."
"I suppose you're right. I just—"
Frances cleared her throat. "Pardon me, but might you have a room for the night?"
The man looked over and frowned. "'Fraid every bed is full."
"I see." She bit her lip. Damn it.
"Oh, Archie," his wife said, getting up. "I'm sure we can find something for the poor lad. He looks exhausted."
"I am very tired, madam, and my horse is lame." Frances was suddenly a hairsbreadth from groveling. Lying in a real bed would be heaven, especially compared to sleeping on the hard floor with the tosspots in the common room or on straw in the stable.
Mrs. Findley clucked her tongue. "You're likely hungry as well."
Frances's stomach spoke for her, growling loudly. She flushed. She hadn't eaten since breakfast, eight hours earlier. She should have packed something, but she hadn't expected to be so delayed, and to be frank, she'd been too angry to think clearly.
And if she'd had a knife in her hand, Aunt Viola would not have been safe.
Mrs. Findley laughed. "Come, sit with us." She took Frances's arm and towed her over to the table.
"I-I don't wish to intrude. If you could just spare a slice of mutton and a potato, I'm sure I would do very well."
"Don't be ridiculous." The woman pushed her into a chair and started filling a plate with food. "You must be starving."
Frances's stomach growled again, and Mrs. Findley laughed. "Poor boy." She put the plate down in front of her. "Now eat before you fall over from hunger. I'm sure we can find you someplace to sleep."
Mr. Findley was less inclined to charity. "Madge, the only room we have free is the one I save for the Valentines."
"Well, none of them will be here tonight, will they? It's the birthday ball, remember? They won't miss it, no matter how much they hate attending. They're good boys."
Ha! Frances speared a bit of potato with her fork. Jack, the youngest of the Duke of Greycliffe's sons, was far from a "good boy." Aunt Viola was forever holding him up as an example of the evils of Town. A rake of the first order and likely a procurer as well, he was rumored to know—intimately—every brothel owner in London.
"I suppose you're right." Mr. Findley turned his attention to Frances. "What's your name, lad, and where are you headed?"
"Frances Had—" Frances coughed. She could use her Christian name—spelled with an i instead of an e it was a male name anyway—but perhaps she should be cautious about using her family name. "Francis Haddon. I'm on my way to London."
"London?" Mr. Findley's brows shot up and then down into a scowl. "How old are you? You haven't escaped from school, have you?"
"No, sir." She focused on cutting her meat so she wouldn't have to meet his eyes. "I'm, er, older than I look."
Mrs. Findley laughed. "What? Thirteen instead of twelve? Don't try to cozen us, young sir. We've raised three sons. Here it is the end of the day, and you don't have the faintest shadow of a beard."
This pretending to be a man was more complicated than she'd thought. Frances smiled and stuffed a large piece of mutton in her mouth.
"What can your mother be thinking to let you travel alone like this?" Mrs. Findley made a clucking sound with her tongue again.
Frances swallowed. "My mother died a number of years ago, madam. I live with my elderly aunt." Aunt Viola would not be happy with that description, but she had passed her sixtieth birthday.
"Well, I can't fathom even an aunt, elderly or not, letting a young'un such as yourself travel up to Town alone." There was more than a hint of suspicion in Mr. Findley's voice.
"My aunt wasn't happy about it, sir,"—Viola had been shouting so loudly it was surprising they hadn't heard her at the Crowing Cock—"but I was desperate to go." She wasn't about to spend one more second under the same roof as that treacherous woman. "I'm to visit my brother. I would have got to London hours ago if the roads hadn't been so bad." She'd meant to stay the night with Frederick, see their man of business in the morning, and then go back to Landsford and wave the bank draft for the amount of her dowry in Viola's face before taking it, packing up, and moving out.
She frowned at her plate. She hadn't yet figured out where she'd go, but she bloody well wasn't going to stay one more night at Landsford. To think Viola had planned to drug her with laudanum, let Littleton into her bedroom, and then raise an alarm so he'd be discovered there by the gossiping servants.
She stabbed a bit of potato so hard, her fork screeched across the plate.
Mrs. Findley wagged her finger at her husband. "Don't glower at the boy, Archie. You're frightening him." Then she turned to wag it at Frances. "And a boy your age should not be traveling by himself. There are bad men—and women—at every turn, eager to take terrible advantage of a young cub like yourself, still wet behind the ears. I'll wager your brother hasn't the least idea how to take charge of you. How old is he?"
Frances blinked. She would like to see Frederick try to take charge of her. If there was any taking charge to be done, she'd be the one doing it. "Twenty-four." They were twins, but she was the elder by ten minutes.
"I don't know, Madge." Mr. Findley was still frowning. "It seems a bit fishy to me. I—"
"Mr. Findley," the barmaid said from the door, "there's a fight starting."
"Damnation." He glanced at his watch. "Right on time, the drunken louts." He looked at his wife as he got to his feet. "I suppose you're right, Madge. None of the Valentines will be needing the room, and I can see you don't want the lad sleeping with the men out there."
They heard a shout and what sounded like a table tipping over followed by glass shattering.
Mr. Findley sighed. "Get the boy settled while I go knock some heads together." He picked up a wooden cudgel leaning against the wall and left to do battle with the drunks.
"Are you ready to go, Francis?"
"Yes, madam." She didn't want to give the innkeeper's wife an opportunity to change her mind. She swallowed her last bite and stood. "Thank you."
"I still don't see how your aunt could have let you travel alone, especially after that dreadful blizzard. The roads were barely passable—well, not passable at all once it clouded up and everything refroze." Mrs. Findley led her out of the room and up the stairs. She looked back, frowning. "You didn't sneak away while she was busy elsewhere, did you?"
"Oh no, madam. My aunt saw me off." With a string of curses.
She looked down so Mrs. Findley wouldn't see the fury in her eyes. Thank God she'd overheard that louse Felix Littleton this morning. If she hadn't stopped in Mr. Turner's store to read Mr. Puddington's letter—if she hadn't dropped the damn man of business's note and had to crawl behind a case of candles to retrieve it—she'd never have learned how Viola had been colluding with the bloody little worm.
Mrs. Findley turned left at the top of the stairs, and Frances followed her down the corridor.
Littleton—she'd recognized his whiny little voice—and his friend, a Mr. Pettigrew, whom she hadn't been able to see but had heard all too clearly, had been laughing about the plot. Littleton had been home these last few weeks, apparently fleeing his creditors, and had been paying her court. He and Pettigrew had sniggered at how easy it was to get silly, old, desperate spinsters to lose their hearts.
She felt a hot flush climb from her breast to her cheeks. Mr. Lousy Littleton was flattering himself if he thought she'd fallen in love with him. Love. Ha! She was not susceptible to that malady. Yes, she might have begun to fancy herself attracted to the snake—he was very handsome and had been extremely attentive—but her heart had been quite safe.
But why Viola, who'd always told her that men were not to be trusted—and certainly the behavior of her absent brother and father supported that theory—would consent to help Littleton was beyond her. Frankly, she couldn't believe it at first, but when she'd come home and confronted her aunt, Viola's guilt had been written all over her face.
"Here you are, then." Mrs. Findley stopped at the last room and opened the door. "It's—"
They both jumped at the sound of another crash from downstairs.
"Oh dear, I'd better go help Archie. The men can get so obstreperous when they're in their cups, but they'll quiet down in just a bit." She smiled and patted Frances on the arm. "Do sleep well." She almost ran back down the passageway.
Frances stepped into the room, and her feet sank into thick carpet. Oh! She couldn't track mud and slush in here. She put her hat and candle on a nearby table, closed the door, and leaned against it to tug off Frederick's boots.
Ah. She wiggled her toes in the deep pile and looked around. Red-and-tan wallpaper covered the walls, heavy red curtains hung on the windows to keep out light and drafts, and a red upholstered chair sat by the fire. But the best thing of all was the big mahogany four-poster bed.
Which had likely been used by Lord Jack to entertain countless women. She wrinkled her nose as she jerked off her overcoat and hung it on a hook. As distasteful as the notion was, she was so tired, she couldn't muster much moral outrage. Perhaps in the morning she'd be suitably incensed, but now she just wanted to lie down.
She slipped out of her coat and started unbuttoning her waistcoat ...
No, better leave that on, as well as her shirt and breeches and socks—all Frederick's castoffs. It seemed unlikely another traveler would arrive so late, but she couldn't take any chances.
She pulled back the coverlet and climbed onto the bed, stretching her aching body over the soft, yielding, wonderful feather mattress.
She was asleep even before her head hit the pillow.
Lord Jack Valentine, third and youngest son of the Duke and Duchess of Greycliffe, jumped behind a pillar in Greycliffe Castle, his ancestral home. It was the last day of his mother's annual matchmaking house party, and Miss Isabelle Wharton, spinster, was scanning the ballroom for prey.
Why did Mama have to be the ton's premier matchmaker and subject them to this annual torture? Everyone called her the Duchess of Love. She even wrote a regular scandal sheet with marital advice—Venus's Love Notes—that the ton's females gobbled up like bonbons. It was a wonder he and his brothers hadn't expired from mortification long ago.
"Hiding?" Ash asked from his right.
Damn it, did his brother want the woman to find him? He grabbed Ash's arm and pulled him out of sight, too. "Of course I'm hiding. Now that Ned is taken, Miss Wharton is after me."
Ash chuckled. "I noticed."
Ash could laugh—he was safe. Bigamy was illegal. Even though Ash and his wife had been estranged for years, they were still married, much as the matchmaking mothers might wish otherwise.
"It's not funny, Ash. My freedom is at stake here."
His brother frowned. "Jack, no one can force you to marry Miss Wharton."
"I know that." He peered around the pillar. Miss Wharton's mass of blond ringlets bounced with determination as she scoured the room for him. She was charming in a puppyish sort of way—when she wasn't pursuing him like a coursing foxhound. He wouldn't put it past her to try to slip into his bed while he was sleeping tonight.
Gad. He felt a drop of sweat roll down his back. He couldn't take that chance. "Go dance with her, will you? I've got to leave."
"The castle. I'm going to London. Now."
Ash's brows flew up. "Are you mad?"
Miss Wharton was coming closer. "No, I'm not mad, I'm desperate. And London's only an hour or two away."
"Not on a night like this. It's cold and dark, and the roads are likely as slippery as the skating pond."
Ash was probably right, but he'd rather risk travel than Miss Wharton. "If the roads are too slick, I'll only go as far as the Crowing Cock. Findley always saves that room for us."
One good thing about Ash—he didn't argue with a fellow. He just raised a skeptical eyebrow and asked, "Are you going to tell Mama?"
"Ah." That did not sound like a good idea. "Perhaps you could tell her? Just don't mention Miss Wharton."
"So what am I to say? That you suddenly—in the middle of a frigid night when only the desperate or insane would go out—decided to hare off to London?"
"Just say I had urgent business in Town."
"Mama's not going to believe that."
"I know." Though it was true. There were always women and children in need of his help, but the situation was worse now. A madman the newspapers were calling the Silent Slasher was cutting women's throats, mostly those of Covent Garden prostitutes. Panic was as thick a stench in London's narrow, dark alleys as rotting offal. "But then you can shrug and say nothing. She won't press you." Mama had never tried to get them to peach on each other.
Ash looked at him a moment more and then shrugged. "Very well."
"Lord Jack, there you are!" Miss Wharton's hideous ringlets bounced into view.
Damn. "Ah, Miss Wharton, there you are. Were your ears burning? Ash here was just telling me how much he wished to beg a dance from you."
"He was?" Miss Wharton's mouth fell open.
"I was?" Ash raised both eyebrows.
Ash was only engaging in a bit of good-natured brotherly teasing, but Jack surreptitiously administered a well-placed elbow nevertheless.
"Oh yes," Ash said, "so I was. Miss Wharton, will you join me in the next set?"
Ash managed to capture the woman's hand, place it on his arm, and lead her away before she quite knew what was happening. She craned her neck to look back at Jack, but then she was gone. Ash, the splendid fellow, had chosen a set on the far side of the ballroom.
There was no time to waste. Jack slipped out, careful to avoid Mama's or Father's gaze, and ran up to his room. He threw a few things into his valise, grabbed his purse and greatcoat, and ducked down the servants' stairs.
He stepped outside. The cold took his breath away for a moment. A thick blanket of snow muffled the lawns and gardens, while thousands of stars glittered in the cold, clear sky.
He belonged in London, but he loved the country. London was a constant din of coach wheels and horse hooves on cobblestones, drunken bucks singing and shouting. It was dirty and crowded, but the country ...
The country's quiet peace would be shattered by his curses if Miss Wharton caught him.
Excerpted from Surprising Lord Jack by Sally MacKenzie Copyright © 2013 by Sally MacKenzie. Excerpted by permission of ZEBRA BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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