Earls Just Want to Have Fun

Earls Just Want to Have Fun

by Shana Galen

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Overview

A 2016 RITA Finalist for Historical Romance!

"a lively pace, wonderful repartee, colorful dialogue, a marvelous cast of characters and, most of all, emotional depth with just enough humor to make you smile and cry."—RT Book Reviews, 4 ½ Stars, TOP PICK!

When Marlowe, a pickpocket, is kidnapped off the streets, she discovers she's actually the lost daughter of the Marquess of Lyndon. Lord Dane doesn't know what to do with the fiercely beautiful hellion, but can he turn her from sassy thief to society lady...before she steals his heart?

Maxwell, Lord Dane, is intrigued when his brother ropes him into an investigation of the fiercely beautiful thief who is believed to be the lost daughter of the Marquess of Lyndon. He teaches her how to navigate the dangerous waters of the ton, but Marlowe will not escape her past so easily. Instead, Max is drawn into London's underworld, where the student becomes the teacher and love is the greatest risk of all.

Covent Garden Cubs Series:
Earls Just Want to Have Fun (Book 1)
The Rogue You Know (Book 2)
I Kissed a Rogue (Book 3)

What readers are saying about Earls Just Want to Have Fun
"Just the right amount of mystery, adventure and attraction to draw you in and keep you satisfied."
"A fast-paced, well-written story with characters that you can't help but fall in love with."
"A tale of adventure, passion, danger and fascinating twists and turns that will enthrall you completely. Entertainment and laughter on every page. A PURE DELIGHT!!"
"I didn't just like this book, I ADORED it!"

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781402298721
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 02/03/2015
Series: Covent Garden Cubs , #1
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 127,462
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Shana Galen is three-time Rita award nominee and the bestselling author of passionate Regency romps, including the RT Reviewers' Choice The Making of a Gentleman. Kirkus says of her books, "The road to happily-ever-after is intense, conflicted, suspenseful and fun," and RT Bookreviews calls her books "lighthearted yet poignant, humorous yet touching." She taught English at the middle and high school level off and on for eleven years. Most of those years were spent working in Houston's inner city. Now she writes full time. She's happily married and has a daughter who is most definitely a romance heroine in the making.

Read an Excerpt

Earls Just Want to Have Fun


By Shana Galen

Sourcebooks, Inc.

Copyright © 2015 Shana Galen
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4022-9872-1


CHAPTER 1

She was five. She liked being five because it meant she could hold up every finger on her hand and spread them wide when an adult asked her age. Adults always asked how old she was and her name. Sometimes they asked her favorite color. Those were easy questions. Her name was Elizabeth, and her favorite color was pink.

She liked candied violets and puppies and hated bedtime and her nanny. Nanny always made her stand up straight and keep her dress clean and brush her hair. Elizabeth had long light brown hair, and it tangled. She had to brush it three times a day. At least. Nanny asked difficult questions. She asked Elizabeth to spell her name. Elizabeth had once told Mama that she wished she had a name like Jane, which was Nanny's name, because Elizabeth was too long.

Mama had laughed. Mama was always laughing, and Elizabeth wished she could be with Mama all the time and never have to see Nanny. But Mama and Papa had to go to the Season. That meant they dressed in clothes Elizabeth could not touch unless her hands were scrubbed clean, and they stayed up very late and slept all day. Elizabeth had to be so quiet.

She hated being quiet almost as much as she hated bedtime with Nanny, who yelled if Elizabeth didn't stay in bed or if she chattered too much. Elizabeth loved it when Mama tucked her in, because Mama always sang her lullabies. Elizabeth's favorite began "Lavender's blue," but Mama changed the words.

Elizabeth's true, dilly, dilly,
Elizabeth's sweet.
A kiss I will give, dilly, dilly,
When next we meet.


Mama was not with her today. Today was sunny and warm, and Nanny had taken her to the park. Elizabeth was so happy. She could run — if Nanny wasn't looking — and twirl and dance and pick wildflowers for Mama. Nanny had scolded her earlier for muddying her pinafore, but Elizabeth did not see how that could be avoided when everything that was interesting was either beside the mud or in it.

Elizabeth bent over to examine a pretty pink flower and jumped when a ball rolled to a stop at her feet. She looked up, searching for the owner of the ball. A boy, just about her age, waved at her and said, "Kick it back!"

Elizabeth blinked and glanced over her shoulder at Nanny. But Nanny was not watching her. Nanny was speaking to a man Elizabeth did not recognize. Nanny was also smiling and blinking a lot. Elizabeth wondered if her nanny had something in her eyes.

"Kick it!" the boy called again.

Elizabeth wanted to kick the ball, but she was not certain whether Nanny would approve. Of course, Nanny was not watching her at the moment. With a last furtive glance over her shoulder, Elizabeth kicked the ball. It sailed over the grass and down a small hill. The boy let out a whoop and chased after it. "Come on!" he called with a wave. He looked like he was having so much fun that Elizabeth followed. He kicked the ball, then let her have another turn. Then it was his turn, then hers again. Elizabeth was laughing and running and wishing the game would never end. She wondered if Nanny saw how much fun she was having, but when she turned, she did not see Nanny. She did not see anything that looked familiar. She was still in the park, but she'd run far away from the path where Nanny and the other people had been enjoying the day.

"Come on!" the boy yelled, kicking the ball again.

Elizabeth shook her head. "I can't. I have to find my nanny." She looked left and then right and frowned. She didn't know which way to go. Her lip trembled, and she felt the sting of tears in her eyes.

Suddenly a man stepped out from behind a tree. The boy seemed to know him and went to him immediately, but the man ignored him. "Don't cry, little girl," he said. "I'll help you find your nanny." He held out his hand, and Elizabeth stepped forward. She looked up at the man and hesitated. His eyes were small and odd — one blue and one green — his teeth were sharp and crooked, and despite his fine clothing, his black hair hung in long and stringy clumps. He smiled, but his eyes did not smile like his mouth. Wordlessly, Elizabeth shook her head and backed away.

"Where are you going, little girl?"

She shook her head and turned to run just as his hands caught her about the waist.


* * *

Marlowe watched Gap stroll down Piccadilly as though he hadn't a care in the world. That wasn't as easy as it looked. Piccadilly was so crowded, even the largest of men were likely to be jostled. And the noise. Everyone was talking at once, trying to be heard over the calls of postboys and peddlers of every sort. Gap looked at home, which he was. Hands in his pockets, he whistled a tune through the gap in his teeth and appeared to stroll aimlessly. Men and women kept a watchful eye on him. He looked every inch the pickpocket ready to dive for the first easy bubble he spotted.

That was why Gap didn't dive.

As he neared the corner where she stood, alternately pretending to watch a gentleman have his boots shined and study the printed bills that covered every available wall or scaffold, Marlowe tucked an errant strand of hair into her cap. She'd bound her breasts so tightly she could barely breathe. She had slim hips and legs, but her long hair and her ample bosom would betray her if she were not careful. There was nothing to do about her chest, but she wished Satin would allow her to cut her hair. He wanted her to keep it for some of their better-rackets.

She watched as Gap gave her the signal, tipping his hat to show her the bubble. Marlowe could dive as well as any of the gang, better than most because she practiced so often. She had the gift of manipulating her speech so she sounded much more cultured than she was. That and her sweet face meant the gentry trusted her. They thought she was one of their own, or not too far beneath them. They never suspected one of their own.

With a tap on the brim of her cap, she indicated she saw the bubble and approved. He was a tall man with broad shoulders and neat blondish-brown hair under his brushed beaver hat. He looked wealthy but not foolish, and she hesitated momentarily, wondering what Gap had been thinking. This was not their usual, easy game. He must have waved some blunt to attract Gap's attention. And if there was blunt to be had, she had better bring it back to the flash ken. She didn't relish another of Satin's punishments.

She turned away from the boot boy and his gentleman, timing her movements perfectly. By the time she stepped into the crowd of people moving alongside Piccadilly, she was almost upon him. His eyes, a sharp, clear blue, met hers, and she had a moment to think this is a mistake. But it was too late, because she'd already collided with him, and her nimble hands had done their work.

She had his blunt in her hand by the time she stepped back and bowed to him. "Terribly sorry, sir. Pardon my clumsiness." While one hand stuffed the pounds in her coat pocket, the other tipped her cap genially. Now was his turn to say think nothing of it, my fine lad. Then they would both go on their way.

But he didn't say his line. In fact, he didn't even look at her hand tipping her cap. His gaze arrowed directly down to the hand stuffing pounds in her pocket, and his lips curled in a smile. "Good day, Elizabeth. I've been waiting for you."


* * *

She ducked into the flash ken with a curse on her lips. She was late, and Satin would have her hide. Strangely enough, that was the least of her worries at the moment. For once, she had bigger problems than Satin, and he was generally a rather substantial problem.

"Ye're late," Satin sneered from the corner of the large room the gang gathered in to eat and socialize. He was gnawing on a greasy chicken leg, his black hair hanging down about his face.

"Sorry."

"Gap said you got nabbed."

She shook her head with a quick look at Gap. Snitch. He'd be sorry later. "No. I took the long way back. I have the blunt." She approached Satin warily and dumped the pile of blunt into the hat between his feet. She felt more than saw the necks of the other boys crane to get a look at her haul. It was impressive, but she didn't pause to bask in Satin's praise. She wanted to escape his attention as quickly as possible. She wanted to be alone, but she couldn't disappear too soon.

Gideon sat to Satin's right, and when she glanced at him, she saw the flicker of a question in his eyes. He knew something was wrong. She prayed Satin didn't.

Satin nodded and grunted then glanced up at her. "That all of it?"

"Yes." She turned out her pockets and dropped her empty purse on the floor. For once she was telling the truth. She hadn't held anything back.

"Good. Go change. You're working the better-racket tonight."

"What? Why?"

His black gaze shot up to her face, and she shut her mouth.

"Because I said so. Need another reason?"

She shook her head.

"Good. I'm sure Gid here will be glad to have you." He nodded at

Gideon, whose face remained expressionless.

Marlowe didn't dally. She knew better than that. She went to her room, which was nothing more than a curtained-off space in the room adjoining the main room. It was cold in the back, and she could see through the gaps in the wood to the world outside the building. When it rained, the roof leaked, and everything and everyone got wet. She was the only girl among the group, except for a couple of prostitutes Satin sometimes used for a racket or other. Because she was the only girl, and expected to have some feminine clothing for games like the one tonight, she also had a small trunk. She closed her curtain and opened the trunk, wiping her hands on her trousers to make sure they were clean. She didn't want to soil the muslin of the dress.

Marlowe hated dressing like a girl. She hated it because it was uncomfortable, and she hated it because the other cubs looked at her differently. She worked hard to be one of them. She talked like them, dressed like them, spat like them. She didn't want them to think of her as a girl — not only because it might give them ideas, but because she wanted to fit in. She wanted to be one of the Covent Garden Cubs, as they called their gang. It was the best gang in London, if anyone asked her.

But today had proved she didn't fit in. That bubble had called her Elizabeth. She wasn't Elizabeth. She tried to tell him, but he knew she was lying. She was usually a good liar, but she'd been taken off guard. The bubble should have been pleased. She was never taken off guard.

"Marlowe?" a quiet voice asked from the other side of the curtain.

She jumped. "Almost ready." She wasn't almost ready, and she stripped the men's clothing off quickly, pulling on a shift and digging in the chest for a petti-coat, stays, and shoes. She was Marlowe, she told herself. That was her name. Not Elizabeth. That was a fantasy she'd conjured to soothe herself after one of Satin's beatings or when she'd been a new cub and was cold and scared.

She wasn't a cub anymore. She was twenty. And she was Marlowe. She shrugged the stays on, struggled with them for a moment, then gave up. "Is Barbara here?" she asked, knowing Gideon was still waiting for her on the other side of the curtain.

"No. She brought dinner and went back. Should I get her?"

Barbara was the wife of the owner of the Rouge Unicorn Cellar, a public house across the street in the cubs' little corner of Seven Dials. Satin had some sort of arrangement with the couple. Marlowe suspected Satin had promised he wouldn't rob the place if Barbara provided a hot meal once a day and cleaned up after the cubs. Barbara also helped Marlowe dress on the rare occasions she needed to look like a lady. But Gideon knew how to dress a woman too. He'd undressed enough of them, she thought.

"No, don't bother," Marlowe said, opening the curtain. She knew Gideon wanted to be on his way. And Marlowe didn't care one way or another whether Gideon fastened her stays. He was more her friend than a man. They'd kissed a few times, when they'd been a bit younger, but neither had felt anything. There was no spark — not that Marlowe knew what a spark felt like, but Gideon said he did, and the two of them didn't have it. That was probably a good thing, since Satin would kill both Marlowe and Gideon if they started sneaking around to make the beast with two backs.

Gideon stepped inside, and she turned. When he didn't begin right away, she looked over her shoulder. He gestured to her chest. "You should probably unbind them first."

She looked down at her all-but-flat chest under the shift. "Right." The shift was loose, and she simply let it drop down to her elbows until she could untie the knot in the bindings. Then she began unwrapping the band of material, which was an arduous task, because there was so much of it. As soon as she'd unwound it a few turns, her breasts began to ache as the blood rushed back into them. She hated their heavy feeling and how they got in the way. She glanced at Gideon and noted he had looked the other way. "Gideon," she said, "you like bubbies well enough."

He laughed and shook his head, still not looking at her. She plucked at one dark nipple. "What makes you so daft over them? I think they're a nuisance."

"Marlowe, I'm not having this conversation with you right now. Pull up your shift and turn around."

She did as he bade her, slipping the stays back on. With deft movements, he laced the back. They pushed her breasts up more than was comfortable, and she sighed, knowing she would be exposed for hours to come.

Interesting that Gideon didn't want to look at her breasts and offer an opinion. She'd seen his noodle. She didn't have much to say about it except that it looked like all the rest she'd seen. She supposed Gideon was trying to act like a gentleman. She didn't know why, when she was no lady.

Gideon finished lacing, and she tied the petticoats on and pulled the dress over her head. Gideon had to help her with the ties and pins on that too. And then there were shoes and her hair, and she'd forgotten to tie her bloody pockets on. She needed them for her knife. Finally, she was ready. What an awful ordeal!

Marlowe stepped out of the curtain and walked back to the main room. Gideon and his cubs were ready — Tiny, Stub, and Joe. Tiny and Stub were young but quick. Joe was fast, and sometimes Satin called him Racer. Joe would stand lookout and race to tell them if they'd been discovered. It was her task to ensure the boys were not discovered.

When she stepped into the common room, every pair of eyes fastened on her. Not on her, exactly, but on her bubbies. This was why she hated dressing like a girl. The boys forgot she could give them a black eye, and started slobbering over her female parts. Marlowe put her hands on her hips. "What are you looking at? Haven't you ever seen bubbies before?"

Some of the boys looked down, but a few grinned at her. One was a cub who'd joined the gang a few years after she had. She didn't know his real name, but he went by Beezle. He was almost as tall as Gideon, and he was strong. Marlowe wasn't certain she could beat him in a brawl. The bawds tended to avoid him, and Marlowe knew he had a reputation for violence. Beezle's gaze stayed on her long after she met his glare straight on. Any other boy would have looked away.

Satin stepped between the two. "Off you go. I want a good haul. I'll meet you at the fencing ken." Gideon handed Marlowe a large burlap sack, and the four cronies stepped outside.

Seven Dials came alive at night. In daylight, it sometimes appeared the sole haunt of the lowest prostitutes and invalids who stooped in every doorway. The bawdy houses and taverns were shuttered and dark, though the gin shops were always open and filled with drunks. In the weak daylight, children and maimed soldiers who were out and about slinked by or crouched in corners, forgotten and forlorn, with their hands out. But darkness had descended now, and with it every man, woman, or child who thrived in the shadows. The streets were crowded, with men and women spilling out of brightly lit public houses. Marlowe watched gentlemen from Mayfair stumble about drunkenly. They would be easy pickings.

"We'll make more on the better-racket," Gideon said, tucking the bess under his coat. He'd use the tool to force the house's door open. He walked beside her, almost protectively. She drew more attention in the dress than she liked. She nodded at the truth of his statement. Besides, she was in no hurry to encounter any more gentlemen tonight. She hadn't forgotten her run-in with the man who called himself Sir Brook. Now she found herself studying every swell they passed, worried it might be he. But he'd said she could come to him. He'd told her where his office was located. Actually, he'd tried to give her his card. Was the man a fool? She couldn't take his card. What if Satin found it?


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Earls Just Want to Have Fun by Shana Galen. Copyright © 2015 Shana Galen. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks, Inc..
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