Less Than a Lady

Less Than a Lady

by Eva Devon

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Overview

To win a lord, you can

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781682810996
Publisher: Entangled Publishing, LLC
Publication date: 12/28/2015
Pages: 286
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.64(d)

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CHAPTER 1

Hampton Court Palace

1670

Lord Darcy Blake, the third Earl of Chase, was not pleased. Not pleased with his mother, his servants, his country, his mistress, nor, at this moment, his king. But particularly, he was not pleased to be standing in an obscure hall of an obscure wing of Hampton Court Palace wearing a petticoat.

Bloody hell, if he'd known ten years ago, when he'd brought Charles back over from France, that he'd be wearing pink ruffles in a barely lit drawing room, he would have left the damn monarch to the Frogs. And if he had to stand another interminable moment in anyone or anything's presence save a flask of spirits he was damn well going to tell the world to sod off.

Still, needs must. Kings called. And Chase men always answered ... Always.

"You make a rather unattractive woman, Chase," drawled Scott Winters, otherwise known to all his compatriots as the Earl of Ice.

Darcy narrowed his eyes, looked over his shoulder, and leveled his brother-in-arms with a ball-crushing stare. "Indeed? I thought you'd toss my skirts up at once."

Winters laughed and pulled a flask from the full folds of his coat. Leaning back in the gilt chair just a few feet away, he angled his head to the side. "I believe you are confusing me with Rochester, Old Chap."

"That walking bag of the French curse?" Darcy turned towards the long mirror propped against the pale painted wall. He looked like an idiot. "This is preposterous."

The pink skirt hung from his narrow hips, but stopped a good several inches above his ankles, revealing his large silver boot buckles. The damn pink bodice wouldn't even lace up in the back, and his shoulders seemed to explode out of the puffed sleeves.

A smile twitched at Winters's lips. "Come now old man ... pardon. Old girl. You look quite charming."

Darcy snorted. God's teeth, if ever he saw a woman such as himself, he'd turn tail and run. After his cock had withered in horror. Women were not meant to be built like soldiers. What in God's name was Charles thinking? "This is madness —"

The door at the far end of the room swung open. The king strode into the room, dogs yapping at his buckle booted feet. His long red coat swung about his tall frame as he walked, and his black wig shone dully in the dim candlelight. Charles's eyes, on the other hand, glowed sharply.

Winters stood.

Darcy stepped forward and they both inclined their heads to the king, then waited. The Spaniels darted about the room sniffing and licking. After a moment, they glanced at the king, circled up together, and plunked themselves into a giant circle of fur before the fire.

Although decadent as Bacchus, Charles bore a cunning intellect that inspired respect in the hearts of men. Not many kings forced into exile ever claimed their thrones, but Charles had grasped his with a bold fist and wild nature.

The king narrowed his eyes. "Madness, Chase? What could elicit such censure from your person?"

"Your Majesty, 'tis simply that I look nothing like a woman," Darcy protested.

The king glanced Darcy up and down, his face expressionless save a glint of amusement in his eyes. "How true. And yet it amuses Us."

Darcy cleared his throat while Winters coughed back a laugh. Gesturing to the too short gown then his face, which he knew bore his father's rough stamp, he attempted reason. "This will never fool Warrington."

Charles nodded as he crossed to stand before the great hearth blazing with fire. "It's not meant to."

"But Your Majesty —"

"Chase." The king cut him short with a gesture of his hand. "We are not best pleased with you."

Oh why had he bedded Richmond's daughter? Why, oh Heavenly God, why? "What I mean to say, Sire, is that there must be better suited men ... if not women to fulfill your purpose."

The king looked back over his shoulder as he rested his hand on the marble mantle. "This is why We are king and you are earl. We have placed you in a frock for reasons of twofold."

Chase held his breath, praying the king would divulge such reasons.

Winters laughed; a vastly irritating, self-satisfied sound. "Please do say we're to parade him in St. James's Park. I think he could turn a lovely trick."

"Your silence at this moment, Winters, would be golden." Darcy focused his attention on his king.

Charles smiled. A beatific, disgustingly amused smile. "As fascinating as Winters's suggestion is, Our needs are far more practical. You are to play Beatrice in a court performance."

"I beg your pardon, but there are countless young men who have portrayed women as a profession. Would it not be better to use their talents?"

The king narrowed his eyes to dark slits then looked from Winters to Darcy. "Since your friend, here, shall be aiding you by keeping an eye on the suspected conspirator Warrington while you learn the ways of a woman, We will be plain." Charles smiled tightly. "We would hire an actor if We merely needed a moment's entertainment, but We need something far more dangerous. You may have to prove a rose with thorns, Chase."

The king pushed away from the hearth and eyed his ringed fingers. "Whispers are growing about a Puritan revolt against any traces of Catholicism in Our Court. We believe Warrington is somehow involved. And if so, We want no one to know that one of the members of Our cabinet may find himself at the bottom of the Thames, courtesy of king and country at Our command."

"But his family was killed by the roundheads," Darcy supplied.

The king stared back, his dark eyes cold. "Yes. They were, but he has been associating with the radical Protestant element as of late. Unfortunately, Warrington is quite vocal in his disapproval of Our lack of an heir and the possibility of Our brother James's succession. We think he may be planning to seize the crown and give it to my bastard Monmouth when We are dead. The poor boy is easily led and We worry traitors will appeal to his vanity and secret longing to be Our heir."

Warrington was an ass, but he was a good soldier and had so far proved himself capable in the House of Lords. Still, his father had been a rabid Protestant, though loyal to the Catholic-sympathetic crown.

Both Charles's mother and brother James were Catholics. A dangerous thing in this land which hated Papists as much as they hated the plague. "I do not see my role in any of this."

One of Charles's spaniels trotted by his beribboned feet and he bent down, lifting the panting creature in his arms. "We have arranged a meeting with Amelia Fox this evening after her performance at the Peacock."

"The actress?" asked Darcy.

"No, the Duchess of Kent," quipped Winters.

Darcy threw Winters a withering stare.

Stroking the long eared dog, the king went on, "She is the other reason why We have specifically chosen you. Mrs. Fox and her brother Edward are the children of one of Cromwell's most noted generals. We fear they are both working for Warrington."

Darcy looked from the king to Winters, not entirely sure he was following this. "So, I am to train with a possible traitor to catch a traitor?"

"Your intelligence is commendable, Lord Chase," said the king. "But yes. With your talent for swaying the ladies, you will surmise along the way whether Mrs. Fox is indeed assisting Warrington. And your guise is that of a pupil. The court play is necessary to support your association with her.

If you discover the lady has played the traitor, London will lose one of its most charming jewels. But then again, one does not shine when one plots against the king."

"Of course, Majesty," said Darcy firmly. Charles could not afford to be merciful with traitors, not when his own father had been beheaded.

The king patted his little dog and then set it down. He raised a dark brow. "You are familiar with Mrs. Fox, of course."

"I have read of her, though I have not seen her perform," Darcy admitted. The rags published rave reviews of her performances and half the men at court had written odes to her eyes, hair, voice ... her ears.

"She is a woman of singular talent." Despite his suspicions, admiration warmed the king's voice, and Darcy wondered just what kind of talent the woman had.

The king was notorious for his custom of making actresses into mistresses. But if she were a potential traitor, Darcy doubted even this liberal king would take her to his bed

Darcy fought back a sigh of resignation. He had no wish to involve himself with the female version of himself. Actors never stopped acting. He'd learned that long ago. Everyone had performed in entertainments on the continent to keep the exiled king amused. Darcy had proven himself quite the young thespian.

"Could I not introduce myself to Mrs. Fox as an admirer?" Darcy asked, desperate to be free of skirts. Surely, the king would not truly burden him with such an indignity.

Charles stared back blankly. "If you knew anything of Mrs. Fox you would know she is particularly suspicious of admirers and is reported for her selectivity. Even with your talents, We doubt you would make much ground with her."

Darcy inclined his head.

"And besides" — the king smiled, a toothy, slightly frightening smile, as if savoring the words he was about to say — "We want you to act like a woman." His voice tensed, and Darcy knew the king was thinking of Darcy's affair with Richmond's daughter ... and countless other wives of the men at Court. "A ladylike, delicate flower."

Darcy winced, realizing that not only was this a mission, but a punishment for overstepping in the boudoir. "And Mrs. Fox will teach me to wilt."

The king's smile broadened. "You have no idea, Chase. No idea, at all. You will do as she says. And you will get close to her." With that, the king turned and strode from the room, his dogs running on short legs, their nails clacking on the wood floor.

"Well, blow me six ways from Sunday," muttered Winters.

Darcy frowned. "I'd rather not."

"Hell, I'd rather you not, old man." Winters strode forward and clapped him on the back. "Never fear. At least you'll be spending the evening with a real and very beautiful woman."

Darcy nodded. True. Very true. And actresses were generally exceptionally friendly even if they were selective. And God knew he needed a friend right now.

Still, he disliked the whole situation, not just the skirts bit. He wasn't at all fond of the idea of spying on a woman. Somehow it seemed to go against everything he'd ever been taught about the nature of a relationship between gentlemen and ladies. Yet, Charles needed him.

Winters took a swallow from his flask then placed it back in his coat. "Shall we to Southwark?"

Extending his hands out from his sides, as Darcy couldn't bring himself to touch the frothy pink monstrosity, he sighed. "Indeed, but first get me out of this frock."

Winters paused. "I never once thought to hear these words from you."

Darcy grasped the waistband of his skirts and yanked at the ribbons. "Sod off. Just bloody well sod off."

CHAPTER 2

The Thames stank. Reeked. Wafted with odious and nefarious smells. Darcy took in shallow breaths, slowly adjusting to the pungent aroma. He refused to look over the sides of his family barge, lest he get an eye full of raw sewage.

God's teeth, piss smelled like roses compared to the mixture of different physics in the air. But the great river way was not to be overly disparaged. 'Twas the lifeblood of London, and thusly of the nation.

Even so, one needed to cross the damn cesspit to reach the more liberal pleasures of city life. Darcy narrowed his eyes as they neared the bank in his family barge. Resting his gloved hand on the hilt of his rapier, he gazed at the approaching dockside.

Southwark was a fantastical mix of pleasure and crime. One best approached it prepared for a damn good fight. The sun had yet to set, but come the night, one could get their throat slit as quickly as they could get their cock tickled.

Winters approached from the back of the barge, balancing easily on the rocking wood. He drew in a loud inhalation. Then sighed. "Ah London, how I loathe her. Or do I mean love?"

Darcy shrugged. "Oh, I'm sure you love her. One must be forgiving of the tired old girl."

The barge slid up to the slime covered stone wall and shuddered to rest. Darcy looked up at the high, narrow steps that had been responsible for the tumble and neck adjustment of many drunk men.

Winters clapped him on the back. "Ready to gaze upon your instructor?"

Darcy glowered at Winters. "I am avoiding any possible thought of me in a frock. You know that."

Winters's lips twitched as he pulled on his feathered hat. "I do beg your pardon."

Darcy nodded. "Right then. Let's go."

They climbed the slippery steps and came up to the top of the bank. Darcy smiled. The narrow street was filled. Packed with every walk of life. Lords and ladies come for a bit of underbelly pleasure, hawkers, actors, acrobats, and even a bishop or two. God, he loved London.

As they stepped from the stone bank side to the street, his boots squelched into deep mud. Quickly, they moved into the thick crowd of bodies outside the theaters, bear-baiting lodges, and houses of wild women.

The dull roar of people behind the high walls of the bear baiting pits warred with the multitudes selling their wares and generally living the life of those who could only afford to live day to day. And so lived every moment with fire.

A fire that most noble men would never know. Darcy trailed his eyes over the people. Their worn, animated faces filled his vision and for a moment he felt genuine hope. They were all so alive. And he could never complain when he had so much. He shook his head. Ennui was for morons. Life was full and he was damn well going to seize every moment he had. Even if all his moments were technically owned by his king.

"You have clearly become a most boring fellow, Chase, to have missed Mrs. Fox's performances." Winters flung the edge of his bottle green cloak over his shoulder. He let his hand rest on the hilt of his rapier as they strode deeper into Southwark. "She has tantalized my attentions many a time and inspired a dozen cock-stands if one."

Darcy shook his head. "Actors. I still do not understand the public's obsession with watching other's lives."

"Have you even seen women on stage since the king's decree?"

Darcy frowned. "I suppose I have not."

Winters laughed. "Then that is where your misunderstanding lies, my friend."

"We shall see."

A crowd lingered in front of the two-story Peacock Theater. It was a relatively new building. Unlike the theaters from the previous era, it was entirely indoors. Its smooth, square structure beckoned with bright posters and playbills.

Darcy had seen it all at some point or the other in his travels on the continent, but it had been years since he'd been to a public theater. And he suddenly realized he'd missed it.

People from high and low class shoved to gain entrance into the building. Darcy smiled at the mayhem. "What play do we see tonight?"

"The Scottish Play." Winters pressed forward and crossed through the double doors of the theater.

"Don't be a superstitious idiot. Call it what it is." Darcy followed and discreetly pulled a few coins from his purse, avoiding the watchful eyes of cut purses.

"Fine then," conceded Winters. "Macbeth," he whispered so no one would overhear.

Darcy passed a shilling over to the ticket collector. The old man pointed a gnarled finger to the stairs on the right. Nodding in thanks, Darcy headed up the stairs with Winters in tow.

He stopped at the top of the long hall that had doors leading to the plain rows of onlookers. He peered up at the lettering above the doors. He hadn't picked a box. Actually, he hated sitting with those who came to be seen and not to watch the performance. A box really served no other purpose, often times having a poor view of the stage. Spotting the door coinciding with his ticket, he stepped in. "And I suppose Mrs. Fox plays the noble Lady MacDuff," he said over his shoulder.

"Good God no." Winters shuffled into the narrow pew-like seats. After checking it for leftover crumbs or spilt wine from the last occupant, he threw himself down. He glanced around, spotted the wine seller, and snapped his gloved fingers. "She's Lady Macbeth, of course."

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "Less Than a Lady"
by .
Copyright © 2015 Eva Devon.
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.

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Less Than a Lady 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Theardentreader More than 1 year ago
Lord Chase, Darcy Blake, has messed with the wrong woman! The king is not happy about it so he must come up with a just punishment. Why not use this punishment to investigate treasonous activity as well? Two birds and one stone and all that. So the King decides Darcy needs to learn to act, like a lady! He has chosen the perfect instructor, Amelia Fox, who is also suspected of treason. Lord Chase must learn to act like a lady and find out if Miss Fox is indeed a traitor to the crown. This should prove to be interesting at least. Until he meets the lady. Beautiful and reserved and not at all the normal actress. Most of that set are "available" but not this one! Not for any amount of money, jewels or houses. This challenge should prove very interesting! Many men have tried and none have succeeded. Amelia is determined not to fall victim to any of these men. Amelia's brother contacts her now and again but recently it's been strange and she isn't sure what he is up to. But she is worried for him. Darcy is having a hard time trying to figure out if Amelia is working for the other side or a pawn. He hopes the latter. He wants to believe her innocent because he can't accept that she is not. He tries his best to not be attracted to her. this is a great romp! I loved the wit and cheek of the characters. The writing was very spirited and brought me into the scenes with the players. The corset scene was hilarious! The book started out well, then slowed a bit while we were introduced to the characters then it ran at break neck speed and I couldn't put it down! The author writes to the heart if you know what I mean. She is very good at pulling the strings that make us feel for the characters and their situation. The scene setting was really well done. I will definitely look for more by this author! *I received a courtesy copy of this book*
Linda_RochesterNY More than 1 year ago
*ARC received from Entangled Publishing in return for an honest review* Darcy is spying on her for the king and Amelia is trying to save her brother who has gotten himself mixed up in traitorous activities. He is enchanted by her from the first moment he laid eyes on her, and he is the first man she is ever tempted to give her heart to. When the situation comes to a head, Darcy has to decide how much he is willing to give up for the woman he loves. Darcy and Amelia are magic together in this entertaining historical romance. The writing is great and I really enjoyed this book.
Sissymae1 More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book! Great story, scene, somewhat funny and all around great book! Darcy Blake, Earl of Chase is set to spy on actress, Amelia Fox and her brother. They are thought to be traders. But Amelia is not all what she seems as the usual actress of that day. Darcy is immediately attracted to her and so is Amelia to him. We see how they deal with him when he has to come clean about his spying . Also how Darcy deals with Amelia not being his typical actress of that time period. I have had to read this book in one setting as I found it that good and I hope that you will too!
Jasmyn9 More than 1 year ago
Less Than a Lady was absolutely wonderful! We start out with an Earl trying on a dress by order of the king. Definitely an interesting way to get a book started. Darcy is wearing a dress so that he can go undercover to find traitors in the world of London theater. His mark is actress Amelia - famous in the theater and one of the most beautiful ladies in London. Amelia also has quite a bit of attitude. I really loved this woman and her devotion to her own standards and way of life. She isn't about to fall for some Earl's suave ways and attempts to seduce her. She'll give as good as she gets and put him in his place. And that works for quite awhile, too. Meanwhile, Darcy is falling head over heels in love with the woman he may have to arrest for treason. But there's so much more to her story that he realizes at first. There were a lot of fun twists to her history and reasons for doing things that kept throwing me (and Darcy) for a loop - but in a very good way. A good dose of mystery and suspense here to really round out the story. In the end things get even more interesting. I had to laugh at a few of the scenes - they were just so clever and watching Darcy's friends react to the situation was amusing. One of the best endings I've seen in a book in a long time. It all worked out beautifully, but still a little unexpectedly. *This book was received in exchange for an honest review*
Historical_Romance_Lover More than 1 year ago
Darcy Blake, Earl of Chase, has been tasked with uncovering a traitor. Nothing would be unusual about this except the king has determined that he must dress up as a woman! Darcy must take acting lessons from Amelia Fox, one of the most popular actresses of the time and learn how to act like a woman on stage. He needs to get close to her to see if her and her brother are indeed traitors to the crown. What he doesn't count on is being so attracted to the woman in the middle of his assignment. Amelia has made a point not to get involved with anyone during her years on the stage, but her attraction to Darcy just can't be denied. But what happens when she finds out the real reason he has been getting acting lessons? Was it all real or is Darcy a better actor than even Amelia believed? I enjoyed this story. It is not often that you end up with a love story with two people of such different class that works. Even though Amelia was an actress, she did cam from a decent family so I think that made it that much more believable. We also get the addition of the mystery of who was or wasn't a traitor. I always enjoy a romance that has an added mystery in the storyline. I'm hoping that Devon makes this a series as there were a few characters in which I would like to learn more about! Thanks go out to Entangled Publishing via NetGalley for a copy of the book in exchange of an honest review.
gigiluvsbooks More than 1 year ago
To win a lord, you can’t be a lady… Darcy Blake, Earl of Chase, is a solider, rogue, and a loyal King's man. Commanded to spy on the luscious actress Amelia Fox, Darcy must pretend to be her student for a court theatrical. He is certain he can school her in the art of seduction while discovering if she is a traitor. But to his shock, he finds Mrs. Fox teaching him an entirely different kind of lesson. As London's most popular actress, Amelia is famous at court, and she doesn't have a husband to tell her what do. Unfortunately, the king has ordered her to train the rakehell, Lord Chase to act for the court. Before long, the Earl is driving her wild with desire and awakening her heart to love. As an actress, society dictates she can never be more than Lord Chase's mistress, and Amelia has vowed never to be less than a lady. When Darcy learns the witty actress is indeed linked to a traitor, he'll have to decide if love or loyalty will rule the day. Review: Lots of secrets and intrigue in this historical romance. Another new to me Author, who wrote a very engaging and entertaining story. Though there is nothing earth-shattering new in this romance, I really liked the characters and the backdrop of the story. I do genealogy and it was fun to read about this time period, as I have lots of pilgrim ancestors who escaped religious persecution. The intimate scenes sexy and hot. I liked that there was fun between Darcy and Amelia even though they are both keeping huge secrets from each other. And Darcy learning to be a woman is a fun twist. Plus, Lord Chase sacrifices everything for Amelia and their love. The second part of the book has lots of action and went much more quickly than the first part of the book. This is a stand alone, so it can be read without being lost or confused. I really enjoyed this story and it provided a great escape for an afternoon. 3.5Stars *Received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.*
Splashesintobooks1 More than 1 year ago
Set just after the return of the monarchy to England, with King Charles II returning to power but wary of the still active anti-monarchist Cromwellian supporters. This is definitely a different time period for a romance to be set in! With a highwayman, soldiers, treason, double crossing lords, an actress and spies as well as romance, this is an intriguing read. There are plenty of twists and turns along the journey to a HEA ending. Many details of life, attitudes and events from the era are included as part of the story. The story has a slow start but is worth persevering with as soon it gets much better, with a much increased pace and action. This is a very different historical romance, exploring attitudes and beliefs during the early reign of King Charles II in England in an entertaining manner. Thanks to the author, publisher and NetGalley, too, for letting me read an ARC of this book in exchange for this, an honest review.
repsgoddess More than 1 year ago
I received this book in exchange for an honest review. With an original premise, Less Than a Lady takes you on an wild ride filled with highwaymen, treason, and escapades that is guaranteed to make one laugh out loud at some of the antics contained therein. With likeable characters, enjoyable plot, romance and intrigue, the book starts out slow but midway through it picks up and really gets moving along.