—New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Hoyt
He could be her ruin
Hugh Redvers is supposed to be dead. So the appearance of the sun-bronzed giant with the piratical black eye patch is deeply disturbing to Lady Daphne Davenport. And her instant attraction to the notorious privateer is not only wildly inappropriate for a proper widow but potentially disastrous. Because he is also the man Daphne has secretly cheated of title, lands, and fortune.
She could be his salvation
Daphne Redvers’ distant, untouchable beauty and eminently touchable body are hard enough to resist. But the prim, almost severe, way she looks at him suggests this might be the one woman who can make him forget all the others. His only challenge? Unearthing the enemy who threatens her life . . . and uncovering the secrets in her cool blue eyes.
Praise for the first book in The Outcasts series
“Minerva Spencer's writing is sophisticated and wickedly witty. Dangerous is a delight from start to finish with swashbuckling action, scorching love scenes, and a coolly arrogant hero to die for.”
—New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Hoyt
“Readers will love this lusty and unusual marriage of convenience story.”
—New York Times bestselling author Madeline Hunter
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Sussex, England, early 1811
Daphne's head rang louder, but less joyously, than the twelve bells of St. Paul's — perhaps head-butting Cousin Malcolm in the face had not been the best decision?
The thought had barely entered her head when agonizing pain drove it out again. Black spots danced in front of her eyes and she clutched at the rough wood of the ancient tree stump to steady herself, blinking away tears to clear her vision. When she touched her throbbing forehead, her fingers came away with blood: hers or Malcolm's or both. She looked from her bloody hand to the man across the small glade. Malcolm lay sprawled amidst the wreckage of the picnic lunch she'd been unpacking when he accosted her.
Her cousin had aged greatly in the decade since she'd last seen him. His brown hair, once thick and lustrous, had thinned and lost its shine and his bloated body was a far cry from the slim, elegant dandy who'd briefly — but disastrously — held her future in his hands. Eight years separated Daphne and the man who'd once been her legal guardian, and every one of them was etched onto his thirty-five-year-old face; a face now wreathed in pain and fury.
Malcolm scrambled into a seated position and shot her a murderous glare before tearing off his cravat and lifting it to his hemorrhaging nose.
Daphne smiled; a bloody, ringing forehead was a small price to pay for Malcolm's obvious suffering. She squinted to get a better look at his face but his puffy, bloodshot eyes shifted and blurred.
Her glasses! Daphne touched the bridge of her nose and bit back a groan; he must have knocked off her spectacles during their struggle.
Angling her body to keep Malcolm in view, she lowered herself into a crouch and began patting the shaggy grass around her feet, praying neither of them had stepped on them. The glasses were special, made with a split in the lenses to accommodate her poor vision. They were also the last gift from her husband before his death. If she lost them, it would be like losing even more of Thomas. It would be —
"Well, well, well, what have we here?" a deep voice boomed.
Daphne squawked like a startled hen and tipped forward onto her hands and knees, her eyes flickering over the surrounding foliage for the voice's owner. A shadow emerged from between two towering wych elms and shifted into the recognizable shape of a man on a horse; a huge man on an enormous horse.
His features became clearer — and more remarkable — with every step. The massive shire was at least seventeen-and-a-half hands, and the man astride it matched his mount in both size and magnificence.
Daphne knew she was gawking, but she couldn't stop. His sun-bronzed skin and golden hair were an exotic surprise against the pallid gray of the spring sky. But it was the black eye-patch that covered his left eye and the savage scar that disappeared beneath it that were truly arresting. He lacked only a battered tricorn and cutlass between his teeth to be every maiden's fantasy of a handsome pirate. Was he lost on his way to a masquerade ball?
Daphne blinked at the foolish notion and her thoughts — usually as well-regimented as Wellington's soldiers — broke and ran when the stranger looked down at her with his single green eye.
"Lady Davenport?" His appearance was exotic but he spoke like an English gentleman. "Are you quite all right, my lady?"
"Yes, but —" she began, and then noticed his attention had become stuck at the level of her chest. She looked down and gasped. Her coat was ripped open from neck to waist, exposing a mortifying amount of chemise, stays, and flesh. Daphne hastily pinched the torn garment closed with her fingers and forced herself to look up again. But the stranger had turned to Malcolm and was staring at him as if he'd forgotten all about her.
He slid gracefully from his huge horse, as if it were no bigger than a pony, and took a step toward Malcolm, raising an ornate gold quizzing glass. His dark blond eyebrows inched up his forehead as he examined the bedraggled, bleeding man.
Only the distant tweeting of birds broke the tense silence, which stretched and stretched and —
"Ramsay?" Malcolm's voice was muffled by the bloody cravat and he lowered the ruined garment, his mouth agape.
Daphne looked from her cousin to the stranger and squinted — as if that might sharpen her hearing as well as her vision.
Ramsay? The only Ramsay she'd ever heard of was her husband's deceased nephew and heir, Hugh Redvers — who'd held the title Baron Ramsay. She shook her head at the bizarre thought; her idiot cousin had to be wrong. Hugh Redvers was dead — long dead.
The giant ignored Malcolm's question, lines of distaste etching his striking profile as he studied the smaller man. For his part, Malcolm raised the crumpled cravat higher and higher as he endured the silent scrutiny, until only his slitted eyes glittered above the bloody cloth.
Daphne recognized her cousin's malevolent gaze and shivered. After all, she'd been on the receiving end of that same look more often than she cared to remember when she'd been his ward. She turned to the stranger to gauge his reaction to her cousin's threatening stare, only to encounter a grossly magnified green eye, the color somewhere between an emerald and peridot. Daphne swallowed, suddenly able to comprehend Malcolm's mortification. This must be what an insect felt like beneath a magnifying lens. She began to shrink away but stopped; she was no insect and he was a trespasser. She threw back her shoulders — keeping one hand on her torn coat — and shot him a bold, if blurry, glare.
His lips curved and he lowered his vile glass, took a step forward, and extended a hand the size of a serving platter.
Daphne frowned at his huge, gloved hand; but it was either accept his help or struggle to her feet without it. She placed her hand in his and he lifted her as if she were a feather rather than a woman of five feet ten inches. He did not release her when she was standing. Instead, he bowed over her captive hand and kissed the naked skin with lips that were warm and soft. Astoundingly soft, and yet the rest of him looked so very ... hard.
"I beg your pardon for not introducing myself right away, Lady Davenport." He nodded toward her cousin but did not take his eye from her. "Sir Malcolm has the right of it. I am Hugh Redvers, Baron Ramsay." His oh-so-soft lips curved into a smile. "Your long-lost nephew."
Daphne shook her head and blurted. "How can that be?"
His eye glinted with amusement. "Well, the earl was my father's oldest brother and the earl's first wife — my Aunt Eloisa — died, and then the earl married you, which would make — "
He was mocking her. She drew herself up to her full height and fixed him with an arctic stare. "I am well aware of family genealogy, sir. I meant, it is not possible you are alive."
He appeared to enjoy that asinine comment even more.
Daphne ignored the mortification that flooded her body at her foolish words. "Hugh Redvers died almost twenty years ago. My husband, the Earl of Davenport, received word of his demise from an agent in his employ."
The towering man lifted his hands at his sides as if to say, Yet here I am.
Daphne studied him with the intensity of a horologist examining a rare timepiece. He bore her examination without blinking, exhibiting none of the nervousness one would expect of an imposter claiming to be her nephew.
In fact, he took a step closer, allowing her to see he was older than she'd first believed — closer to forty than thirty — but no less attractive for it. Deep lines radiated from the corner of his green eye and his guinea-gold hair was heavily dusted with silver at the temples. He was currently smiling but the determined set of his jaw showed him to be a man accustomed to having his own way, and the deep grooves bracketing his smiling lips were evidence he enjoyed getting it.
The white scar that almost bisected his face began at his left temple, disappeared beneath the black patch, and reemerged to continue over the bridge of his nose and end at his jaw.
Daphne compared the scarred but still handsome man standing before her against the memories of her ten-year-old self — the memories of an infatuated girl who had idolized her dashing, handsome neighbor and had mourned deeply at the news of his death.
This man was tall — remarkably so — golden, and devastatingly attractive. Not even almost two decades, brutal scarring, and the black patch over his eye could obscure the truth. He was, without a doubt, Hugh Redvers, her dead husband's true heir: a man everyone had believed dead for almost twenty years.
A man Daphne had robbed of title, lands, and fortune.
She opened her mouth to say — to say what?
She swung around to find Caswell, her groom, standing at the head of the narrow path, his eyes bouncing like cricket balls from Daphne to the towering stranger to the local squire dripping blood on their picnic blanket.
Before she could answer him, her elder son's voice rang out behind the groom.
"I am not telling a bouncer, Richard. The fish was enormous — far bigger than that minnow you caught." Lucien sounded aggrieved. "If only I hadn't slipped and dropped the pole."
Richard, Lucien's younger twin by twelve minutes, had only one word for his brother's claim. "Bosh."
Lucien had to turn sideways to squeeze around the frozen, staring groom. "I say, Caswell, what —" And then he, too, stopped in his tracks, his mouth forming an O of surprise. Richard came around Caswell's other side, and he and his brother stared, their identical brows wrinkled with confusion.
Because they were healthy, bloodthirsty young males, the first thing to snag their attention was the man with the crimson neckcloth. Then they turned to look at the one-eyed giant beside their mother. That sight, while interesting, couldn't hold a candle to Hugh Redvers's awe-inspiring horse, which was grazing not far behind him.
All other thoughts vacated their heads and they moved toward the enormous horse as if pulled by a string. Ramsay watched their rapt progress toward his horse with open amusement. He said something in a language Daphne believed to be Arabic and the animal sauntered forward, extended one foreleg toward the twins, and bowed low over it before returning to a standing position and regarding the two small boys with a haughty equine stare.
"He's smashing, sir!" Lucien said to the man he'd unknowingly robbed of title, land, and money.
Daphne briefly closed her eyes. Can this really be happening?
"May we pet him, sir?" Lucien asked, jarring her from her misery.
"You may," Redvers said. "Just don't stand behind him, he's got a kick that will send you to Newcastle."
The boys grinned, as if such warnings of grievous bodily harm made the prospect of touching the great horse even more appealing.
"His name is Pasha."
Malcolm cleared his throat and all heads swung in his direction. His chest was puffed out like a pigeon's and he resembled an overgrown, pudgy schoolboy who'd been soundly thrashed and was desperate to salvage some dignity.
"Just what the bloody hell is going on here, Ramsay?"
"Language, Hastings." Ramsay's single eye narrowed until it was barely a slit. "You know, I was wondering the same thing myself." The words were quiet but there was a chill in the air as he contemplated the other man.
Malcolm lifted his bloody cravat. "What, this? This is nothing." He shrugged. "My horse is rather skittish and something startled him."
Ramsay turned to look at the placid creature cropping grass a few feet away and then back to Malcolm, his eyebrows arched.
"I kept my seat, of course, but I took a rather nasty knock." Malcolm glanced at the carnage on the picnic blanket. "Terribly sorry about your picnic, Coz." He cut Daphne a sneering look before turning back to Ramsay.
The men stared at one another for a long, charged moment before Malcolm muttered something unintelligible, led his horse to the nearest stump, and hoisted himself into the saddle, his feet flailing as he sought his stirrups.
When he was secure on his mount, if not in his pride, he swept the small group with hate-filled eyes, his glare lingering longest on Daphne. She read the threat in them clearly: he was not finished with her, nor would he forgive or forget what had transpired between them today. He kicked his horse with unnecessary viciousness and thundered away. An awkward silence hovered in the small clearing as the sound of horse hooves faded.
"Quite an appalling seat, I'd say," Lucien observed.
Her son's coolly damning indictment of Malcolm's equestrian skills drew a bellow of laughter from the one-eyed stranger.
Not a stranger; he is the Earl of Davenport.
Daphne shivered, and not because it was cold. For a moment she was paralyzed by the enormity of what was happening — by the overwhelming impossibility of it all. She took a deep breath and held it until her lungs burned, the sensation bringing her back to herself. She was a woman of science and reason, not a frightened schoolgirl. Submitting to hysteria in the face of facts was not her way — at least not for long. She exhaled, expelling the mindless terror along with the air. She did that several more times, until her heartbeat slowed, and then she stared at the very-much-alive man before her.
His return from the dead was ... well, Daphne had no words to describe the unexpected event. But she did not need to find the correct words right now; she could find them later — when Hugh Redvers was not standing right in front of her.
"I'm famished, Mama. May we eat?"
Lucien's question was so mundane it added to the sense of unreality. The whole affair was like some kind of farce — a three-act play lampooning English manners, the first act having taken place offstage over a decade earlier.
An uncharacteristic bubble of hysterical laughter tickled the back of her throat like an unpleasant vintage of champagne, and it took her several attempts to swallow it down. Daphne told herself a bit of hysteria was justified — first Malcolm and his threats and now this — this — well, whatever this was.
Still, collapsing into a quivering heap would not help anyone, least of all her sons. Daphne glanced from Lucien and Richard's expectant expressions to Ramsay's interested one. Food? At a time like this? When a man had returned from the dead? When —
"What happened to the hamper, Mama?" Lucien's brown and gold eyes, so like his father's, flickered over the rumpled blanket and scattered contents.
Ramsay looked every bit as curious as her son, but, she suspected, for entirely different reasons.
Daphne forced her mouth into a smile. "Eating our luncheon sounds like an excellent idea, Lucien." Why shouldn't they eat? Indeed, what else should she do? Blurt out the truth to Ramsay in front of her sons and servant? Yes, food first. Explanations and confessions later — much later.
And about Ramsay ...
"You must join us, Lord Ramsay."
He inclined his head, clearly willing to play his part in the farce. "It would be my pleasure." He gestured to the trampled food and crockery. "May I be of assistance?"
Before Daphne could answer, Lucien made a noise of shocked delight and pointed to Ramsay's gloved left hand — a hand missing its third finger.
"I say! What happened to your finger?" Lucien had to tilt his head so far back to meet the giant's gaze he was in danger of tipping over backwards. "And your eye?" he added for good measure.
Heat flooded Daphne's face. "Lucien!"
His head whipped around. "Yes, Mama?" he asked, all wide-eyed innocence.
"Any more questions like that and you will ride back to Lessing Hall inside that empty hamper."
Lucien shot a worried glance at the picnic basket, his shoulders sagging with relief when he realized his mother's threat was a physical impossibility. He gave the towering lord a sheepish look. "I'm sorry I was rude, sir."
Ramsay smiled. "I'm sure there will be ample time later to regale you with tales of all my missing parts. But for now, perhaps we might give your mama a few moments while Pasha demonstrates some of his other tricks?" He turned his back to give Daphne some much-needed privacy and she almost wept at the small show of kindness.
She turned to Caswell — who'd been watching and cataloguing the incident, no doubt to regale the servants' hall with the story over dinner. "Please see what can be salvaged, Caswell."
"Very good, my lady."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Barbarous"
Copyright © 2018 Shantal LaViolette.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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