The Greatest Lover in All England

The Greatest Lover in All England

by Christina Dodd

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Since childhood, Rosie's life has been the stage—passing herself off as a boy playing women's roles in the somewhat disreputable theatrical troupe of actor Danny Plympton, Rosie's adoptive father. But when unanticipated danger confronts them, they must flee London, taking refuge at the estate of Sir Anthony Rycliffe. A handsome, devil-may-care rakehell, Tony quickly sees through Rosie's disguise.

But a lush, womanly form and eminently kissable lips are not the ravishing young beauty's only secrets—and the burning attraction Tony feels for her does not lessen the peril she has brought to his doorstep. The dashing rogue is determined to strip the irresistible lady of her mysteries—and her masculine garb—using all of his fabled seductive powers. After all, Tony has a reputation to uphold, as . . .

The Greatest Lover in All England

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061081538
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/26/2006
Series: Harper Monogram
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 400
Product dimensions: 4.19(w) x 6.75(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

New York Times bestselling author CHRISTINA DODD builds worlds filled with suspense, romance, and adventure, and creates the most distinctive characters in fiction today. Her fifty novels have been translated into twenty-five languages, featured by Doubleday Book Club, recorded on Books on Tape for the Blind, won Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart and RITA Awards, and been called the year's best by Library Journal. Dodd herself has been a clue in the Los Angeles Times crossword puzzle.

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The Greatest Lover in All England

Chapter One

Autumn, 1600

"Catch them two whoreson actors!"

The shouts of five men-at-arms propelled Sir Danny yet faster. The mud of the squalid London streets splashed to his knees, and he cleared a garbage-eating pig in one leap.

"Catch 'em an' th' earl o' Essex'll reward ye!

Curious spectators turned to watch as Sir Danny and his ward skidded around the corner, but no one stepped between the soldiers and their prey. With every stomp of their boots, with every shout and every curse, the men-at-arms proclaimed their intention to commit murder most foul.

Sir Danny loved the drama of it. When watered with intrigue, he grew like a mighty oak, and he thrived on life's tumult. Responsibility was for lesser men; Sir Daniel Plympton, Esquire, lived to laugh, drink, fight, swive...and act. Seeing the crowd of beggars, drunkards, and prostitutes gathering in the doorways of the tall, ill-kept taverns and tenements that lined the street, he slowed and pointed one hand skyward. Pitching his voice to reach the 'farthest member of his audience, he proclaimed, "Damn yon brazen sun! Would God that wispy London fog might cover o'er its bright and erring face, and so conceal us from our enernies..."

"Shut your maw and run."

His ward planted one firm hand on his back and shoved him along the sunny lane. Dear Rosencrantz, Sir Danny thought, always so worried about him, always sure that this adventure would be their last. Didn't Rosencrantz realize that in his fifty years on this earth, Sir Danny had not yet fulfilled his destiny? That audiences still waited to be thrilled by his thespian endeavors? That Queen Elizabeth's reign had not been defended by him?

That he had not yet resolved Rosencrantz's own fate?

"In the alley. Quick, Danny. Quick!"

He chuckled at the panic in Rosencrantz's voice, at the slender shoulder shoved into his spine.

Spurting ahead, Sir Danny darted into the dark, narrow lane, overhung with the eaves of two-story hovels. He raced past the massive washerwoman hanging sheets on the line, ignored her furious cry, and ducked beneath the dangling white canvas.

Still playing to the crowd left behind, he announced, "Oh, stinking mud beneath our feet which even now reminds of us of our mortality! The stench of death hangs heavy o'er our fair city-"

Between the flapping sheets, the washerwoman seized Rosencrantz and yelled, "'Ere now, ye young oaf, ye'll not be fer ruinin' me laundry."

"Let me go!" Rosencrantz sounded panicked.

When Sir Danny poked his head back, he saw the youth captured by the beefy washerwoman.

Rosencrantz struggled, but the washerwoman lifted and shook Sir Danny's ward. "This is my alley, an' no lickspittle goin' t' come through lessen I say so."

Rosencrantz's feet kicked in midair. "No, m'lady, but yon soldiers'll murder us."

"Yon soldiers?" The washerwoman put Rosencrantz down hard and faced the entrance to the alley, blocking the meager leak of sunlight with her girth.

Using the damp line of laundry like a theater curtain, Sir Danny warned, "They come. They come! The ungodly heathens even now curse us with their hot breath, and fair Jupiter himself-"

Ducking beneath the sheet, Rosencrantz grabbed Sir Danny's hand and pulled him aside even as Essex's men thundered through the gap.

"Begone, ye leadenpated lug-loafs!" the washerwoman roared. "This is my alley, an' no..."

They shoved her so hard she landed in a puddle. Her broad beam created a wave that left a tide mark on the side of the building, and she shrieked out oaths to make a lord blush.

The soldiers ignored her, slashing the clothesline with their swords and trampling the sheets beneath their boots. Both Sir Danny and Rosencrantz tried to dart toward the far end of the alley, but the sharp and shiny edge of a blade blocked that way-and then every way. Helmeted heads obstructed the scant light, and the faces within sneered.

"Like maddened dogs," Sir Danny said. "Your visages proclaim your lineage and your temper.,,

"Danny. Don't ... don't . . ." Rosencrantz could scarcely speak for terror. "Don't provoke them."

Sir Danny looked at the men towering over him. He looked at their leather armor, their scars, and their swords, and, for the first time, fright possessed him. This was no drama, no imaginary threat which brave words would vanquish. He'd done the worst thing a common man could do. He'd proved himself a menace to a nobleman, and regardless of the justice of his cause, he would die for his insolence.

But Rosencrantz would not die. By the gods, heSir Daniel Plympton, Esquire-would not allow it.

Calling on his theater art, he softened his bones and weakened his muscles. The dynamic fifty-year-old transformed himself into an easy victim. With more conviction than pathos, he said, "And so my prayer is answered, and the sun sets upon this life lived too long in the bosom of the blessed earth." He nudged Rosencrantz away from him, wanting his dear ward positioned for flight. "Yet youth slips away between the bandy legs of threat and rises again for better times."

Rosencrantz understood, of that Sir Danny had no doubt. But answering him in kind, Rosencrantz moved closer and denied him firmly. "Youth and age will die together, and so entwined, give life to that blessed earth."

Sir Danny abruptly lost his eloquence. "Dammit, Rosencrantz, if these clots discover..."

"Clots?" The chief man-at-arms, a hulking soldier with a single eye, grabbed Rosencrantz by the long tail of hair. "Ye aren't talking about us, are ye?" He twisted the unkempt brown locks until the youth sank into the mud with a moan. "Are ye?"

"Nay. Nay!" Sir Danny observed, horrified, as the bully grabbed the long, white throat exposed by his brutality and squeezed. "I meant no disrespect, kind sir. Brave, brawn sir." He poked at the soldier's arm and professed amazement at the muscles he found, while ascertaining that mere wool covered those muscles. A hardened leather vest protected the soldier's chest and back, and a padded leather trunk hose shielded his hips from slashing blows, but the rest of his body was vulnerable.

The Greatest Lover in All England. Copyright © by Christina Dodd. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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