Miss Charlotte Allston's curious nature has always led her to trouble. This time, she's tangled in a web of traitors and spies and quite literally swept off her feet by a handsome stranger. But all is not what it seems with the Earl of Beckport.
The earl is living incognito, hunting a band of smugglers at the center of a plot for the French to invade England. The enigmatic Miss Allston becomes a person of interest...and not just in the smuggling case. Passion flares swift and hot between the two. But when her attempts to help with his secret mission only endanger it, he must question where her loyalty truly lies.
When Charlotte is captured by the very traitor he's after, the earl must decide between redemption...and love.
Each book in the Wanton in Wessex series is STANDALONE:
* A Perilous Passion
* A Potion for Passion
About the Author
Elizabeth Keysian felt destined to write historical romance due to her Cornish descent, and an ancestral connection to the Norse god Odin. Being an only child gave her plenty of time to read, create imaginary worlds, produce her own comics, and write sketches and a deplorably bad musical for an amateur dramatics group.
Three decades spent working in museums and archaeology fired Elizabeth's urge to write, as did living on a Knights Templar estate, with a garage full of skeletons, a resident ghost and a moat teeming with newts.
Elizabeth lives near Bath in England with her partner and cats.
Read an Excerpt
August 1804, Dorset
Miss Charlotte Allston was just about to wade into the sea to examine a mysterious object when a tremendous force sent her crashing to the ground.
Flat on her back in the shallows, she gaped up at the summer sky, winded, struggling helplessly against the weight that smothered her. From the vise-like grip on her arms it had to be a man, an extremely strong one, pinning her down on the sodden sand. Squeezing her eyes shut, she prayed fervently for someone on the beach to rush to her rescue.
But no one did.
A cultured voice commanded, "You're not to do it, d'ye hear? There's no problem that can't be solved — life's too precious to throw it away."
Charlotte tried to focus on the face that now hung mere inches from her own, and failed. Fortunately, he shifted his weight, making breathing easier, but she still couldn't muster enough air to scream. Why did no one come to her aid? Was her attacker carrying some fearsome weapon she had yet to see?
Suddenly, his words cut through her confusion. Life's too precious ... He thought she was about to drown herself. Great heaven, how could any sane person confuse wading on Chelney Beach with suicide? If she'd been going to do that, it would have happened months ago, after her failed elopement with Justin Jessop.
Barely had these thoughts crossed her mind than the man set her back on her feet, lifting her as if she weighed no more than a doll. He swiftly removed his coat and tucked it about her shoulders.
This wasn't what one might expect from an assailant with evil intent. Shading her eyes against the sun, she stared at the man who'd so mistaken her actions. He was well-built, with a deep chest that taxed the buttons on his plain kerseymere waistcoat. Long legs with powerful thighs and calves swept down to his boots, adding a masculine grace to his muscular physique. Was he an out-of-uniform officer, perhaps? He had the stiff, upright bearing of one. Or a bare-knuckle boxer? This should account for the muscles.
No, a pugilist wouldn't have retained such dark good looks. There were no dents or lumps in the long, aristocratic nose, no scars to mar the line of the close-shaven square chin. The man was older than her beloved Justin and didn't look particularly mad, or stupid.
He must know she wasn't about to put an end to herself. So, what, then, was his real motive for toppling her over?
He gazed intently into her face. "You're wet and cold. Come with me back to the inn. I'll have them do a hot brick for you and make up a caudle. Then I'll return you to your family. Or take you to see the local parson. Whoever you feel might be able to help. I'll carry you if you don't feel up to the walk."
Somewhat lost in the face of such determined decision making, she summoned anger to her defense. "I can walk perfectly well by myself," she stated, pushing away the proffered arm. "I don't want your coat. I'd rather throw it in the sea and trample upon it! And I hate caudles. Tell me, do you make a habit of pushing young ladies over?"
His eyes hardened. "Of course not. But I couldn't let you do such a terrible thing."
"Is it so awful to walk into the sea?"
"What you were about to do is against the laws of God and Nature. As I'm sure you're aware."
He genuinely thought she'd been about to drown herself. "Well, really!" she said on a gasp. "Of all the ridiculous notions!"
His broad shoulders sank. "You looked so melancholy. I thought —"
"You were watching me?" She wasn't sure she cared for that.
The shoulders stiffened again, and he spread his hands in a gesture of self-defense. She noticed scratches on them, as though made by bramble thorns.
Who was this man? And why was he spying on her?
As she continued to gaze at him, nonplussed, the breeze flapped at her gown, driving the wet muslin against her legs. She resisted the urge to shiver, for fear of being threatened with a caudle again, and tilted her chin defiantly.
His deep voice had an edge to it as he said, "I see that I may have made a mistake. Only, you looked quite ... bereft. Then you just turned and walked into the water. Anyone would have thought the same."
"If I have good reason to look melancholy, that's my own business." Wasn't the fact that Justin was exiled to Scotland a good enough reason? Wasn't the fact that she'd been confined to the house for the entire spring, more than enough to make her look miserable?
"A lady doesn't normally stroll along the beach unchaperoned," the stranger informed her, "or ruin her shoes with sea water." He coughed and looked self-conscious. "When things happen that are out of the ordinary, I feel the need to investigate."
She had been chaperoned. But Aunt Flora was so intent on listening to the quack doctor on the green that Charlotte had been able to escape.
"I —" she began, then paused. Why try to justify herself? She should turn around and stalk off, not waste time standing here disputing with the fellow.
"You behaved like a lunatic," she said. "Shall I send for the constable and have you returned to your asylum?"
He gave her a crushing look. Then, acknowledging the barb, he smiled. And for no reason she could fathom, she blushed.
"If I were mad, I would hardly be likely to own it," he said.
Probably true. She really should stop arguing with him, brush down her sandy skirts, and return to Aunt Flora before she was missed. "You can apologize to me and be on your way," she suggested.
There was a hiss of breath. "I should prefer you not to talk to me as if I were a child, when I quite clearly am not."
He certainly wasn't. As he spoke, his powerfully male body became taller, more formidable — which made her feel a bit like a feisty sheep standing up to a wolf.
"Look," he said, grasping her elbow, "why don't you just tell me why you walked into the sea, and then we can both go home."
She tried to shake him off. "You're impertinent, sir, and no gentleman. If I tell you, will you stop pestering me?"
He nodded, watching her with disturbing concentration.
"Very well. I noticed something strange in the water and was wading in to see what it was. Satisfied? You can take your hand off me now."
The fingers tightened. "What did you see? Point it out."
Why was he so interested in such an unimportant thing? Definitely no gentleman, and most certainly addle pated. What a sad waste of a handsome face and striking physique.
She relented. "I thought it might be a piece of cloth, trapped by a rock and waving in the billows, or it may just be seaweed. It's out there."
Still holding her captive, he shaded his eyes and peered out to sea, then suddenly released her, strode into the shallows, and pulled out the object she'd seen. He splashed back toward her, his trousers soaked to the knee, and she stepped forward to see what he'd picked up.
"Oh, it's lace. How lovely! I can think of a hundred uses for it already." Lace was scarce and expensive due to the war with Napoleon, and she happened to know that most of it was brought in by smugglers, keen to avoid the weighty customs duties.
Yes, she knew rather more about such goings-on than she would ever let on to a stranger. Or even a friend.
It looked like Brussels lace — the very best money could buy — yet the stupid fellow was crumpling it in his great fist.
"You'll ruin it!" she exclaimed, reaching for the lace.
He held a finger to his lips, then thrust the piece inside his waistcoat and peered around him, intent as a hound on a scent. "We must go from here," he said. Catching her by the arm again, he jerked her into a running walk and headed back up the beach toward the path that led inland.
"Let go of me at once! Where are you taking me?"
"Back to the village. It's not safe for you here on your own. Haven't you heard the stories about the horseless highwayman?"
She had, as had everyone who lived on this part of the Dorset coast. She countered, "But it's broad daylight, and we're on the beach, not the highway."
His square chin was determined, the full lips pressed into a stubborn line. This was a man used to being obeyed. Without slackening his pace, he said, "It's for your own good. How do you know the footpad doesn't mark his victims by day, then follow them and watch until nightfall, waiting for his moment to strike?"
This gave her pause for thought. Then her foot slipped into one of the freshwater rills that laced the beach, and her anger returned.
"How do I know you're not the footpad?" she queried, hauling him to a stop so she could balance on his arm and shake the water out of her shoe. "You could be abducting me even now, planning to have your evil way with me."
Jerking her back into motion he said, "You've been reading too many Gothic novels, by the sound of it. I think they're ridiculous, responsible for spoiling many a young mind. You should try Swift, or the wonderful studies in human absurdity written by Miss Burney. So much more realistic."
He was striding along so fast, she had to struggle for the breath to respond. "Not only do you manhandle me in a most ungentlemanly manner," she said, panting, "but now you're recommending suitable reading material. What kind of man are you?"
"The kind that has your best interests at heart, believe me."
"I don't believe you. Let me go!"
She yanked so hard on his arm it pulled him off-balance, and they both fell with a thump into the icy trickle of a rill.
Well, at least she was on top now. But that didn't make it any better. To get off would involve an undignified scramble, and parts of her anatomy would come into even closer contact with parts of his.
His body arched beneath her, his stomach muscles flexing against her belly in a thoroughly disturbing fashion. She fought against a peculiar lightheadedness, intensified by the friction of his chest against her breasts.
She didn't realize what was happening until a smile blossomed on his face.
"Oh, how dare you laugh! It's not at all amusing, being tumbled around in the mud with you." She scrambled off, subjecting him to a quelling look that did no good at all.
He regained his feet in an instant, still chuckling.
She snapped, "You look ridiculous. Your hair's plastered with silt."
"And you look like you've been trying to catch a piglet in a muddy sty."
She regarded him coolly and found herself distracted by the way his expression had transformed from a warning frown to a decidedly attractive grin. His brown eyes with their long lashes sparkled at her, giving her a tantalizing glimpse of a vibrant, virile man in the peak of health and humor.
Dazzled, she smiled back.
He said, "I can't let you go home looking like that. I'll fetch some grass to brush the sand off. I can't do anything about the wetness except wring you out, and that would crumple your skirts, so best not."
She stood self-consciously by a dune while he broke off handfuls of long grass, the sharp edges raising beads of blood on his palms. As he brushed at her skirt, she watched, fascinated, enjoying the play of the muscles across his shoulders, and his quick, sure movements. He was so very different from Justin, yet she could see how some women might be drawn to such a man.
"Turn round," he commanded, straightening. She moved like an automaton, the stroking of his hands lulling her into compliance. If he attempted to brush her body any higher than her waist, she'd have to slap him.
Or ... would she just give it a moment, to see what it felt like? She swayed at the thought.
"Sorry to keep bumping you. Don't fall over. Are you dizzy?"
"A little faint, perhaps."
"Let me steady you." An arm came around her waist, and her mouth went dry.
Goodness! The man was emanating so much heat that she felt drawn to it, like a moth to a flame.
"Now you've dropped your reticule. Here, allow me."
She reclaimed her bag in fingers that trembled. It was imperative she pull herself together. This man wasn't Justin. She couldn't possibly feel the same sort of stirrings she'd felt in her former sweetheart's arms.
She licked her lips. "I must go. My family will be wondering where I am. Thank you for the loan of your coat."
"I'll walk you back."
"No need, I assure you. Good day!" She gathered her reticule in one hand, her skirts in the other, and hastened away in what she hoped was a dignified manner. On reaching the firmer footing of the path, she broke into a trot. She could have gone faster, but she didn't want the stranger to think she was afraid of him.
Her mother would be appalled at this new scrape. So her mother must never know. With any luck, Aunt Flora would be too distrait to notice her disheveled state.
Her skirts would dry out quickly in the hot August weather, but she'd need to douse her face in cold water to get rid of the heat in her cheeks. Because every time she thought of her encounter with the man on the beach, her face flushed hot and her heart beat faster.
But wait! They had unfinished business. He'd taken the contraband lace, which should, by right, be hers!
Well, she wouldn't make a fool of herself by turning around and marching back to confront him. But at some point — and soon — she would seek him out to reclaim what was hers.
Rafe Pomeroy, Earl of Beckport, followed the young woman all the way to the village green, where he watched her join a female in a matronly cap — her chaperone, presumably. Fortunately for him, neither woman seemed aware of his presence; although he had garnered a few odd looks from passers-by, on account of his thoroughly soaked trousers.
The last thing he wanted was to attract attention to himself here in Fortuneswell, the small Portland village where he'd come to hunt down smugglers. Here, he was ordinary Mr. Rafe Seabourne, a country squire who'd recently rented Dovehouse Farm, and was ostensibly in search of financing to get the place up and working again.
No one must know, or even guess, at his true identity or his real reason for going incognito. If they did, not only his life but the lives of countless Englishmen would be at risk.
For, he wasn't just in pursuit of a smuggling ring — he was also after a traitor.
This traitor, whose identity Rafe was here to uncover, was a dangerous villain, in league with the French and using a local band of free traders to exchange messages with Napoleon's admirals. Rafe's informants told him the man planned to set up a series of hidden beacons along the coast — bonfires which would be set aflame when the nation's defenses were at their weakest, signaling the perfect moment for a full-scale French invasion.
Curse the young woman who'd toppled him into the rill! Had she not, he would even now be sitting in the taproom at the Admiral Duncan, nursing a tankard of ale and eavesdropping on any suspicious conversations.
One day, someone would let something slip, offer up a small snippet of information that would give him all he needed to locate the beacons and round up the spy — and hopefully the free traders, too.
But now he was forced to retreat to Dovehouse Farm and change his clothes. It was a long walk for a hot day, but he was accustomed to walking.
A frown creased his brow as he strode back through the village toward the lane leading to the nearby village of Byroad. Normally he didn't mind walking everywhere, even though a gentleman of his station usually rode his horse or was driven in a carriage. However, he'd developed an irksome sensitivity to any horse with which he was unfamiliar. New horseflesh — or more specifically, horse hair — made him sneeze, which was usually nothing serious.
Unless, of course, the untimely sneeze came during a sensitive military maneuver.
Anger lengthened his stride. Never had he felt as humiliated as in the moment that had destroyed his military career! His ambush had been so carefully planned, designed to capture a small band of French scouts before they could disperse. What secrets they could have told! What vitally important military information they might have imparted!
Yet Rafe had sneezed at the worst possible moment, all because a fellow officer hadn't tied up his mount securely and the horse had strayed too close. The French scouting party had immediately scattered, and the maneuver had failed miserably.
As the commanding officer, he should have been the one to conceal and protect his men. Instead, he'd given away their position.
He couldn't apologize, for that would have undermined his men's respect for him. He'd already lost respect for himself. When the mutterings and sniggers had begun circulating among the other regiments, and even among civilians, he'd had enough. He'd resigned his commission and bid the army farewell.
The shame had followed him back to England, where he'd hidden himself away at Beckport House, unable to face anyone of higher status than a servant for fear of being treated as a laughingstock.
Until he'd struck on the idea of serving his country in another way entirely.
Excerpted from "A Perilous Passion"
Copyright © 2017 Elizabeth Keysian.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Really enjoyed this sweet story. I liked the characters also. Fun read.
Spies and Smugglers. All too often smugglers tend to be given a romantic glow but they were often cutthroat criminals and I believe it was true that Napoleon sympathizers used the trade to pass secrets to and from France. It is against this background that the story is set. Rafe is an undercover spy seeking to find traitors in the area, whilst Charlotte, who is incredibly curious, keeps stumbling in his way endangering both herself and his cover. The attraction between them further complicates his mission, as does discovering her own father was a notorious smuggler. This is a good book with both a strong hero and heroine and a storyline that is a little different to other books set in this period. I did on occasion find it a little slow and overall a bit too long. I received a complimentary copy of this book from NetGalley. I was not compensated for my review, and I was not required to write a positive review. The opinion expressed here is my own.
It's 1804 and Charlotte lives with her mother and aunt. She hasn't got a flawless reputation, but she tries to keep this hidden. Unfortunately her curious nature gets her in trouble. When she meets Rafe she unintentionally becomes involved in a case against smugglers. Rafe is working under a false name. He's an earl trying to restore his reputation by proving himself as a cunning and competent spy. Rafe doesn't know his surroundings that well and Charlotte can be of use, but she has a past, can Rafe actually trust her? Rafe is on a dangerous mission. Charlotte knows he'll leave when he's done, so she shouldn't fall in love with him. However, this proves to be harder than she thought. The earl is a handsome man with many skills. He's convincing and capable, something she can't resist. Can she trust this man with her heart or will he break it? Are Charlotte and Rafe a good or a bad match? What will happen to them when Rafe's investigation progresses, will they be able to keep themselves safe? A Perilous Passion is a captivating romantic story. I was immediately intrigued by the subject, I love stories about smugglers and Elizabeth Keysian makes this world come to life incredibly well. Her main characters are beautiful and strong. They have their flaws though, which makes them fascinating to read about. Charlotte has a good heart, she genuinely wants to help. She's also daring and impulsive and this makes her land herself in many unexpected situations. Rafe is a rake, but he does have manners too. His personality is versatile, he's daring, reckless and charming, which is a winning combination for a main character who spies. I was intrigued by their connection, there are sparks, they click on an intellectual level and they share a sense of adventure. This made me fly through the pages. Elizabeth Keysian's writing has an easy flow. Her descriptions are vivid and I enjoyed picturing the time she writes about. Her story is fast-paced and there's plenty of entertainment. I like lighthearted historical romance and loved this story from beginning to end. I had a great time reading about complex conspiracies, matters of the heart, seduction and honor. A Perilous Passion is a terrific dynamic story with a wonderful ending that put a big smile on my face.
A Perilous Passion by Elizabeth Keysian is a phenomenal historical romance. Ms. Keysian has once again delivered a book that is well-written. The characters and their interaction is fantastic. Charlotte is the daughter of a smuggler that was murdered before he could be pardoned. Rafe is the Earl of Beckport but using another name while hunting smugglers. Their story is full of intrigue, action, suspense, humor and sizzle. While this book was dramatic, it was also a fun read. I loved every page. I look forward to reading more from Elizabeth Keysian soon. A Perilous Passion is part of The Wanton In Wessex Series but can be read as a standalone. This is a complete book, not a cliff-hanger. I voluntarily read an Advance Reader Copy of this book.
A Perilous Passion by Elizabeth Keysian is the story of Charlotte Allston and Rafe Pemeroy, the Earl of Beckport. Rafe is pretending to be Rafe Seabourne a country squire and is staying at Dovehouse Farm looking to make a go of it. But he really is a Spy looking for a Smuggling ring and a traitor. Rafe has been trying to get back the confidence and correct a past issue with his career. Charlotte too has things going on that have left her melancholy. Her father, Abraham Cutler once ran ale houses as a front for smugglers from the north sea but then he became sick and was going to give Kings Evidence for a Royal Pardon but was murdered before completing it. So Charlotte and her family left the area and changed their names so that they wouldn't be found. Then Charlotte thought she had feelings for Justin Jessop and was going to elope with him but that didn't happen and he was sent to Scotland Rafe and Charlotte had a funny type of first meeting where they both walked away thinking there was more going on with each other than what they were pretending to be. Their encounters where really great! Once you start this book there is no putting it down....at least for me. Loved it!
Handsome Undercover spy, hidden smugglers, engaging heroine and quirky characters. What more could you ask for? From the first chapter, the story engages the reader trying to determine what is happening.. A classic case of things are not always as they appear! Charlotte Allston, our heroine, is a little feisty and does not worry about convention as much as she should. With her father being murdered due to his connection with smuggling, she and her mother had taken refuge with her aunt and changed their names. Rafe, the Earl of Beckport, has a lot in common with Charlotte. He is hiding out under an assumed name and identity trying to ferret out a band of smugglers who could endanger England.. It would seem fate would have it that Rafe and Charlotte come into contact literally by a funny mishap and each becomes suspicious of the other.. What was unexpected was the attraction between the two that cannot be ignored! Keeping Charlotte safe while completing his mission becomes difficult when it seems someone is out to harm Charlotte. Strong attraction, an old suitor and a cast of characters make this book a fun read that you will not be able to put down. Well done Elizabeth Keysian! Lori Dykes