The 1920s are in full swing when Sadie Loudon leaves her grandfather’s stodgy vicarage, and she dreams of the glamour and excitement she’s seen on the silver screen. But before she even begins work at the storied Grand Russe Hotel, she is ushered into London’s glittering nightlife by a handsome young businessman intent on introducing her to the pleasures available to a Bright Young Thing. Is it a fleeting romance…or something even more intriguing?
Les Drake is on the lookout for Bolsheviks when he encounters sweet, sexy Sadie. A British Secret Intelligence agent, Les has more experience with the seedy underside of the city than with innocent chambermaids, but he can’t deny that Sadie tempts him. Using her as part of his cover seems like a brilliant plan until the danger of his assignment threatens what has suddenly become a love he can’t bear to lose…
Praise for Heather Hiestand’s novels
“You’ve got to admire Hiestand’s moxie for setting her latest romance in an era rarely portrayed in today’s historical romances.” –RT Book Reviews
“One Taste of Scandal is a delicious, multi-layered Victorian treat." —Gina Robinson, author of The Last Honest Seamstress and the Agent Ex series
“A fast read with a different view point than many novels in the genre.” —Library Journal on His Wicked Smile
“This is definitely one for the keeper shelf.” —Historical Romance Lover on His Wicked Smile
“A delightful, sexy glimpse into Victorian life and loving with two wonderfully non‑traditional lovers.” —Jessa Slade, author of Dark Prince's Desire, on His Wicked Smile
About the Author
For more information, visit Heather’s website at www.heatherhiestand.com. Want to stay in touch with Heather and receive exclusive information about her new releases? Sign up for her newsletter at heatherhiestand.com/newsletter/.
Read an Excerpt
I Wanna Be Loved by You
The Grand Russe Hotel
By HEATHER HIESTAND
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Heather Hiestand
All rights reserved.
Outside London, afternoon, January 9, 1925
Sadie Loudon pressed her hands down the sides of her slightly too-short uniform skirt when she saw Mrs. Curtis. She'd shortened the hem to make it saucier, but the above-calf length created problems when she bent over. January was no time to have a breeze snaking up her bare thighs. However, the increased tips in this seedy inn where she was a new chambermaid more than made up for the discomfort.
"Clean up that mess in the lobby, ducks," the housekeeper said, brushing frizzy locks of graying hair behind her ears. "We'll run off our customers."
Sadie clucked her tongue when she saw the pile of paper in the middle of the small hotel lobby. "Who dumped that rubbish there?"
"No idea," Mrs. Curtis sighed. "We're too close to the Richmond train station for comfort."
Sadie set her mop and bucket in the corner and went to pick up the papers. Her shoes crunched on a broken tile in the checkerboard pattern as she walked across the floor. She looked back to see Mrs. Curtis wincing at the noise.
As she picked up the first piece of cheap paper, the headline, in large, heavy type, stood out: UNITE THE WORKERS! She scanned the text, which said, "Not a penny off the workers' wages, not a penny tax on food!"
The words meant little to her. She had only started her first proper, paying job on Monday. No paycheck had been issued to her yet. As far as she was concerned, these labor unions trying to create unrest were merely creating more work for her.
"I'll be sorting out the Reading Room," Mrs. Curtis called. "Have a tidy in room 301 when you're done in here. They just went to tea."
Sadie made a face at the floor. Dreadful 301 and their nasty poodles. Cleaning the foul-smelling room took four times longer than any of the others. She clenched her fist, ruffling the leaflets, then stooped to gather the rest.
A slam sounded behind her, as if a guest had opened the upstairs door in a rush. Someone hurtled down the steps. She glanced up to see a bearded man in gray trousers, a baggy black coat, and a Russian budenovka hat barreling toward her. Dropping the leaflets, she attempted to stand.
The running man crashed into her. She fell backward, her arms going wide. Her back hit the tile, legs going up in the air. Pain radiated through her skull and shoulders. She panted, too startled to do anything else.
More noise on the stairs. More crunching on the tiles. The front door banged open. Steps slowed. Another man, this one in a slim, hand-tailored, pinstriped suit, looked down at her. His bowed lips curled when he saw her silver knickers, exposed by the skirt hovering somewhere around her waist. He was clean-shaven and rather young, with gray-blue eyes that regarded her dispassionately, despite the smile.
Sadie pulled her knees together and dropped her feet to the ground. "Help me up!" she begged, cautiously pulling her arms to her sides.
The man narrowed his eyes at her, then glanced toward the door. "My apologies, darling," he said in a lazy but polished accent that somehow hid a hint of a wink. Without looking back, he ran after the first man, his highly polished oxfords gleaming from her floor-level vantage point. He pushed through the door, coat-less, running into the cold after his quarry.
Slowly, she put her hands to the tiles and pushed herself up. Her back ached and her head spun. "Well, I like that," she muttered. "Such cheek." She pushed her skirt down and stared uneasily at the leaflets.
Bolsheviks were labor agitators, weren't they? That first man was a Bolshevik, judging from the hat. As much as he had frightened her, the complete calm in the second man's eyes bothered her the most. She had a sense that nothing could break through his defenses. Goodness, though, he'd been a handsome one.
Shivering, she rose shakily to her feet and staggered to the battered reception desk. Old Ben, the hall porter, appeared as if from nowhere.
"Sadie, love, what's happened to you?" Old Ben stepped up to the other side of the desk.
"I was knocked down."
"By a guest?" Old Ben stared uneasily at the small lobby.
"They came from upstairs." She described both men, lavishing most of the details on the second man, with his broad shoulders, long legs, and memorable face.
"I don't recall either of them," he said. "I'll have to investigate. Why don't you ask Mrs. Curtis for a headache powder and have a lie-down in your room?"
Sadie wanted to say yes, but she wasn't a well-trained vicar's granddaughter for nothing. "I still have work to do. After I clean room 301, perhaps."
"No, love, have a lie-down first. Half an hour."
"I will then. I do ache dreadfully." She smiled and hobbled toward the stairs. When she saw one of the leaflets, curled up in the corner of the lobby, she picked it up and tucked it into her pocket. She had a vague sense that she needed to be better informed about labor issues.
* * *
The thin winter sunlight faded over the rooftops as night came on. Les Valentin Drake handed a copy of Motion Picture Magazine to Yuri Gadisov, the owner of the newsstand a block away from the Richmond Inn. "This isn't my bestseller, that's Photoplay, but it's an excellent publication."
Gadisov, a corpulent ex-lorry driver who'd immigrated to England five years before, made a congested noise and took the magazine. "I think they would sell better around the Green. Girls on this street don't have the money for American imports."
"Girls are obsessed with American stars," Les said, not bothering to push. He didn't have orders to sell to Gadisov. His objective was to receive an invitation to Gadisov's father-in-law's birthday party the next night.
Gadisov lifted his shoulders. "Maybe I should take one copy of each to see what sells. You never know, eh?"
"You never know," Les agreed, thickening his faint Russian accent. He'd developed it based on his grandmother's accent, remembered from childhood.
Gadisov glanced at the beautiful redhead on the cover. "I still don't like short hair on women, Valentin."
"Of course not," Les agreed. "A woman's crowning glory."
"Yes," Gadisov sniffed. "A man like you must be looking for a wife, eh?"
"Do you have someone in mind?" Les asked, pulling out an order pad and filling out Gadisov's purchases.
"Would you like a nice Russian girl?" Gadisov asked. "Or do you want an English girl?"
"Russian, naturally," Les said. "A girl who knows how to brew a proper cup of tea."
"Nothing but the samovar," Gadisov agreed. "You should come to a party with me tomorrow night. My wife is from a large family. Lots of pretty girls will be there."
"I'd like that," Les said with a cheerful wink. Got him. Gadisov's father-in-law was reputed to be involved in a local Bolshevik cell and Secret Intelligence had been looking for an in for months. He handed Gadisov his order form and the man counted out a few coins in payment.
"Here is the address." Gadisov wrote it across the form.
"Very good. I'll see you and your lovely family tomorrow. Spasibo." Les shook hands with the man and walked a block south.
Five minutes later, he stared out through the window panes of the telephone booth across the street from the Richmond Inn. His eyes felt gritty from a day mostly spent outside in the winter wind, most of it without his coat. He'd had to retrieve his coat from the café where he'd left it when the labor provocateur he was following moved more quickly than he expected. He'd chased him through the inn right after that but he had vanished hours ago. He'd stayed behind the man as far as the Thames but his quarry had disappeared into the brush along the river banks, which was inhabited by tramps of the dangerously unstable Great War–veteran type.
The Bolshie hadn't been worth pursuing. His section head had agreed with him when they met early that afternoon at a safe house in Chiswick, but Les had been sent back to Richmond to collect a copy of the flyer for the file. Also, he had the never-ending task of developing his cover persona as a commercial traveler dealing in American magazines.
He'd meant to go newsstand to newsstand in Richmond, selling copies of Photoplay today. Some of them were owned by Russians and he was always looking to build relations there. The Secret Intelligence Service had set him up in business, partly with the intent of using his magazines to pass messages coded in invisible ink to undercover agents. At the end of the day, he had to leave a copy of the December 1924 Photoplay on a bench in Waterloo Station. Cover model Lois Wilson's beautiful chin was marred with a small inkblot, the clue to the other agent that this magazine contained orders inside.
Les wished he knew what the orders were for. Presumably something more glamorous than magazine sales. He set down the telephone receiver and checked his case, making sure a clean copy of the January issue was on top, then opened the door. Dodging cars, he strode across the street and entered the Richmond Inn for the second time that day.
"It's you!" gasped a young woman at the reception desk. A middle-aged couple turned away as she spoke, the wife staring hard at Les, her tongue in the corner of her mouth, before her husband tugged her toward the staircase.
Les recognized the hotel employee from earlier, though his main recollection was of a pair of silver knickers and a set of deliciously rounded thighs above gartered stockings. But his photographic memory had catalogued all of her. Not Yuri Gadisov's feminine ideal. A real looker, her thick dark blond hair was cropped into a fashionable bob, tucked under at the ends. She wore a black chambermaid uniform, although the skirt was a bit skimpy. He grinned when he remembered the undergarments again. If he'd run past at just a slightly different angle, he might have been able to see right up the loose fabric to the feminine treasures hidden beneath.
When he refocused on her, he saw her cheeks were flushed scarlet. "I'm so sorry I couldn't aid you earlier today," he said, taking her plump, unresisting hand in his. He noted that her skin seemed much too soft for a chambermaid, and catalogued a mole at the base of her middle finger on the back on her right hand.
Her voice came out breathless. "Who was that man you were chasing?"
"A very bad man," Les said, careful not to let his assumed Russian accent creep in. "Obviously, since he hurt you, darling. Is your head aching?"
She wrinkled her nose. "It hurt dreadfully at first, but I rested. They are very nice here, kinder than some of the guests."
"I'm sure." He rubbed his thumb across her throbbing pulse. "Do you happen to have any of those flyers? I wanted to take one to the police."
"Are you going to have them make a sketch of his face?" she asked eagerly. "Do you need me to go to the police with you?"
He smiled tenderly. He doubted she would remember anything but the man's Russian hat and his beard. He, on the other hand, had caught the precise details of the man's eyes, nose shape, and distinctive ripped earlobe, since the earflaps of his hat had been buttoned up. "I wouldn't want to waste any more of your valuable time."
"I did keep a copy of the flyer," she said, surprising him.
He'd been afraid he'd have to go through the bins. "Very intelligent of you."
Her cheeks pinked again. She had a pointed chin that spoke of mischief in the making, but her eyes were a transparent green blue that, along with her dimples, encouraged trust.
"How old are you, darling?" he asked.
"Twenty." She paused. Her fingers spasmed in his hand. "Well, I'm twenty tomorrow, it's my birthday."
So honest, this adorable little flapper. "What are you doing to celebrate?"
"Nothing. I only moved here on Monday." Her tongue darted out and touched her lower lip for an instant. "From Bagshot. I don't know anyone."
His decision was made in an instant. Despite his claim to be looking for a wife, a date would protect him from having to flirt unwisely in the Russian community. Also, he couldn't resist this intelligent, dramatic, extremely attractive girl. "Then you must come with me. I was invited to a birthday party here tomorrow."
"At the hotel?" She made a face, demonstrating her opinion of any party that might be held here.
"No, darling, in Richmond. In a private home."
Her fingers curled in his palm. "Oh, I don't know."
"Very respectable," he assured her. "A matron's party. The motherin-law of a local businessman."
She tilted her head. He could see she was considering, hovering toward going. "Oh. What do you do?"
"I sell American movie magazines."
Her eyes lit. "I love movie magazines. What do you have?"
He squeezed her hand gently, then released it. Then, he opened his case and pulled out the January Photoplay. "Have a sample copy."
"Oh, I never. Thank you." She stroked the cover.
He went into his patter. "Do you think the hotel might want to subscribe? I have other magazines too, but this is the most popular."
"I couldn't say." She took the magazine from him and set it on the counter, then opened the cover. "My stars, look at that silver fox coat."
He leaned in to look. Really, he should read the blasted things. "You'd look lovely in it."
She laughed. "Listen to us. A traveling salesman and a chambermaid wasting time over a photograph of a fur coat. As if either of us will ever see such a thing."
"You never know. You're much prettier than the model."
"I am?" She dimpled.
"Of course. I've always preferred blondes to brunettes anyway."
"Many men do," she agreed, bending over the desk a couple of inches. She turned the page of the magazine.
"The model has no chin," Les added, wondering if she was trying to show him her breasts. Her uniform didn't really allow for it, though. "I bet you have a marvelous profile."
She tilted her head so he could see her profile. Eating out of his hand now. He had no idea what use to make of the little chambermaid, though. It didn't seem likely anyone important would ever stay at this inn. On the other hand, there was a thriving Russian community around here and wherever there were Russians, there were Bolsheviks in the crowd. So, he'd develop her as a source in case he found a use for her later.
"See, a perfect profile," he said jovially. "Lovely straight nose, chin and jawline perfect for your face, and the most kissable lips."
Her lips parted in surprise. "Mr. err —"
He had to think quickly. The Russians knew him as Valentin Dragunov. Valentin was indeed his real name. Dragunov was up the family tree somewhere, although his true full name was Leslie Valentin Drake. He'd best use his working name with this girl. "Rake, darling. Haven't I mentioned that? Lester V. Rake."
"What does the V stand for?"
"Never you mind," he said with a comical wince. "What is your name?"
In his mind, he linked the picture of this pretty girl to South London, which included Richmond, where she lived. That way he'd remember her name, since "South London" was close to "Sadie Loudon." "A very pretty name."
She wrinkled her nose. "Commonplace. I sound like a chambermaid, don't I?"
"Not with that accent," he assured her. "No, you'll move on to better things, find a husband if you like."
Flipping past a page of upcoming American movie releases, she pretended to ignore his suggestion. "I only took this job after a fight with my grandfather. I was doing secretarial work for him before."
Now a secretary was a valuable asset indeed. They had access to everything their guv touched, while being such a low-level employee that they were rarely suspected. And, often women, they were easily swayed with romance. If he could lead this girl into the right sort of job, he could make his career. "Are you hoping to return to secretarial work?"
"No. I like working with my hands, I think. But not cleaning." She made a disgusted face. "You wouldn't believe what some of our guests do to their rooms."
The memory of a blood-spattered guest room in Lambeth, where a couple of Russian gangsters had fought to the death, flashed into his thoughts. But this young girl had seen nothing of the potential ugliness of life, the world he was immersed in. And he needed to keep her ignorant of it.
"I can well imagine," he agreed. "Listen, darling, I need to toddle off and sell magazines now, but I'll pick you up around seven tomorrow night. Good?"
"Yes," she agreed. She was quiet for a moment, then smiled brilliantly. "Thank you for the invitation, Mr. Rake."
Excerpted from I Wanna Be Loved by You by HEATHER HIESTAND. Copyright © 2017 Heather Hiestand. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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