Juliette Bergerine has learned to keep herself safe by avoiding undue attention, but now her life is also in danger and, together, she and Drury must take refuge in a mansion in Mayfair. There, this broodingly cynical man proves an irresistible temptation .
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Considering Drury's life in general, I suppose I shouldn't really be surprised. It's unfortunate the young woman was French, though. We all know how he feels about the French.
from The Collected Letters of Lord Bromwell, noted naturalist and author of The Spider's Web
Panting, Juliette Bergerine lay on her bed in a tangle of bedclothes and stared at the stained ceiling above her.
It had been a dream. Just a dream. She was not in France, not back on the farm, and Gaston LaRoche was far away. The war was over, Napoleon defeated. She was in London. She was safe.
She was alone.
Except what was that scuffling sound? It could be rats in the walls, but it seemed too distant.
And what was that noise? A shout? A cry of pain coming from the alley outside?
Kicking off her sheets and thin blanket, Juliette got out of her narrow bed and hurried to the window, raising the sash as high as it would go. Clad only in a chemise, she shivered, for the September air was chilly and tainted by the smells of burning coal, of refuse and dung. The half-moon illuminated the hastily, poorly constructed building across the alley, and the ground below.
Four men with clubs or some kind of weapons surrounded another man who had his back to the wall of the lodging house. She watched with horror as the four crept closer, obviously about to attack him. The man near the wall crouched, ready to defend himself, his dark-haired head moving warily from side to side as he waited for them to strike.
She opened her mouth to call out for help, then hesitated. She didn't know those men, either the attackers or their victim. Given where she lived, they could all be bad men involved in a dispute about ill-gotten gains, or a quarrel among thieves. What would happen if she interfered? Should she even try?
Yet it was four against one, so she did not close the window, and in the next moment, she was glad she had not, for the man with his back to the wall cursedin French.
A fellow countryman, so no wonder he was under attack. Being French would be enough to make him a target for English louts.
Just as she was about to call out, the tallest of the attackers stepped forward and swung his weapon. The Frenchman jumped back, colliding with the wall. At the same time, another assailant, his face shielded by his hat, moved forward, slashing. She saw the glint of metal in the moonlighta knife.
She must help her countryman! But what could she do?
She swiftly surveyed her small room, plainly furnished with cheap furniture. She had a pot. A kettle. A basket of potatoes that were supposed to feed her for a week.
She looked back out the window. As the Frenchman dipped and swayed, the first man rammed his club into his side. He doubled over and fell to his knees while the man with the knife crept closer.
Juliette hauled the basket to the window, then grabbed a potato. As the lout with the knife leaned over the poor Frenchman and pulled his head back by his hair, as if about to slit his throat, she threw a potato at him with all her might and shouted, "Arrête!"
The potato hit the man directly on the head. He clutched his hat, looked up and swore. Juliette crouched beneath the window, then flung another potato in his direction. And another. She kept throwing until the basket was empty.
Holding her breath, she listened, her heart pounding. When she heard nothing, she cautiously raised her head and peered over the rotting windowsill.
The Frenchman lay on the ground, not moving. But his attackers were gone.
Hoping she was not too late, Juliette hastily tugged one of her two dresses on over her chemise, shoved her feet into the heavy shoes she wore when walking through the city to the modiste's where she worked as a seamstress and ran down the stairs as fast as she could go. None of the other lodgers in the decrepit building showed themselves. She was not surprised. Likely they felt it would be better to mind their own business.
Once outside, she sidestepped the puddles and refuse in the alley until she was beside the fallen man. He was, she noted with relief, still breathing as he lay on the cobblestones, his dark wavy hair covering the collar of his black box coat with two shoulder capes. It was a surprisingly fine garment for a poor immigrant.
She crouched down and whispered, "Monsieur?"
He didn't move or answer. Seeking to rouse him, she laid a hand on his shoulder. She could tell by the feel of the fabric that his coat was indeed very expensive.
What was a man who could afford such a garment doing in this part of the city at this time of night?
One answer came to mind, and she hoped she was wrong, that he wasn't a rich man who'd come to find a whore or a gaming hell. "Monsieur?"
When he still didn't answer, she carefully turned him over. The moonlight revealed a face with sharp cheekbones and a strong jaw, a straight nose and bleeding brow. His shoulders were broad, his waist narrow, his legs long.
She undid his coat and examined him the best she could in the moonlight. The rest of his clothing white linen shirt and black cravat, well-fitted black riding coat, gray waistcoat and black trouserswere also of the finest quality, as were his leather riding boots. Mercifully, she saw no more blood or other injuriesuntil she looked at his hands. Something was not right
He grabbed her arm, his grip unexpectedly strong. As she tried to pull free of that fierce grasp, his eyes opened and he fixed her with a stare that seemed to bore right into her heart. Then he whispered something in a deep, husky voice that sounded like a nameAnnie, or something similar.
His wife, perhaps? "Monsieur?"
His eyes drifted closed as he muttered something else.
He had not grabbed her to hurt her, but out of fear or desperation or both. And it was obvious that whatever might be wrong with his hands, they were not crippled.
Whoever he was, and whatever had brought him here, she couldn't leave him in a stinking, garbage-strewn alley.
As long as he wasn't completely unconscious, she should be able to get him up to her room, where it was dry and there was a relatively soft bed.
She put her shoulder under his arm to help him to his feet. Although he was able to stand, he was heavier than she expected and he groaned as if in agony. Perhaps there were injuries she couldn't see beneath his clothes.
She thought of summoning help from the other people who lived in her lodging house, but decided against it. Even if they hadn't heard the attack, they already regarded her with suspicion because she was French. What would they think if she asked them to help her take a man to her room, even if he was hurt?
Non, she must do this by herself.
As she struggled to get the man inside, she was glad she had grown up on a farm. Despite the past six months sewing in a small, dark basement, she was still strong enough to help him into the building, up the stairs and onto her bed, albeit with much effort.
She lit the stub of candle on the stool by the bed, then fetched a cloth and a basin of icy water. Sitting beside him, she brushed the dark hair away from the man's face and gently washed the cut over his eye. A lump was starting to form on his forehead.
Hoping his injury wasn't serious, she loosened his cravat and searched the pockets of his coat, seeking some clue to his identity.
There was nothing. They must have robbed him, too.
He murmured again, and she leaned close to hear.
"Ma chérie," he whispered, his voice low and rough as, with his eyes still closed, he put his arm around her and drew her nearer.
She was so surprised, she didn't pull away, and before she could stop him or even guess what he was going to do, his lips met hers. Tenderly, gently, lovingly.
She should stop him, and yet it felt so good. So warm, so sweet, so wonderful. And she had been lonely for so long .
Then his arm relaxed around her and his lips grew slack, and she realized he was unconscious.
Sir Douglas Drury slowly opened his eyes. His head hurt like the devil and there was a stained and cracked ceiling above him. Across from him was a wall equally stained by damp, and a window. The panes were clean, and there were no curtains or other covering. Beyond it, he saw no sky or open space. Just a brick wall.
He didn't know where he was, or how he had come to be there.
His heart began to pound and his body to perspire. As fear and panic threatened to overwhelm him, he closed his eyes and fought the nausea that rose up within him. He wasn't in a dank, dark cell. He was in a dingy, whitewashed room lit by daylight. It smelled of cabbage, not offal and filthy straw and rats. He was lying on a mattress of some kind, not bare stone.
And he could hear, somewhere in the distance, the cries of street vendors. English street vendors.
He was in London, not a cell in France.
Last night he'd been walking and only too late realized where his feet had taken him. He'd been accosted by three no, four men. They hadn't demanded his money or his wallet. They'd simply attacked him, maneuvering him off the street into an alley, where he was sure they'd meant to murder him.
Why wasn't he dead? He'd had no sword, no weapon. He couldn't even make a proper fist.
Something had stopped them. But what? He couldn't remember, just as he had no idea where he was, or who had brought him here.
Wherever he was, though, at least he was alive.
He tried to sit up, despite a pain in his right side that made him press his lips together to keep from crying out. He put his feet on the bare wooden floor and raised his headto see that he wasn't alone.
A young woman, apparently fast asleep, sat on a stool with her head propped against the wall. Her hair was in a loose braid, with little wisps that bordered her smooth, pale cheeks. Her modest, plain dress with a high neck was made of cheap green muslin. Her features were nothing remarkable, although her lips were full and soft, and her nose rather fine.
She didn't look familiar, yet there was something about her that danced at the edge of his mind, like a whisper he couldn't quite hear. Whatever it was, though, he didn't intend to linger here to find out.
He put his hands on the edge of the narrow bed, ready to stand, when the young woman suddenly stretched like a cat after a long nap in the summer's sun. Her light brown eyes opened and she smiled at him as if they'd just made love.
That was disconcerting. Not unpleasant, but definitely disconcerting.
Then she spoke. "Oh, monsieur, you are awake!"
She spoke French. Instantly, he was on his guard, every sense alert. "Who are you and what am I doing here?" he demanded in English.
The arched brows of the young woman contracted. "You are English?" she answered in that language.
"Obviously. Who are you and what am I doing here?" he repeated.
She got to her feet and met his suspicious regard with a wounded air. "I am Juliette Bergerine, and it was I who saved your life."
How could one lone young woman have saved his lifeand why would she?
He was well-known in London. Indeed, he was famous. Perhaps she hoped for a reward.
He rose unsteadily, the pain in his side searing, his head aching more. "Do you know who I am?"
Her eyes narrowed. "Don't you?"
"Of course I do. I am Sir Douglas Drury, barrister, of Lincoln's Inn."
"I am the woman who threw the potatoes."
Potatoes? "What the deuce are you talking about?"
"I threw my potatoes at the men attacking you to make them run away. And they did."
Was that what he'd been trying to recall? "How did I come to be in this room?"
"I brought you."
Anger kindled in her brown eyes. "Is this the thanks I am to get for helping you? To be questioned and everything I say treated like a lie? I begin to think I should have left you in the alley!"
Trust a Frenchwoman to overreact. "Naturally I'm grateful you came to my aid."
"You do not sound the least bit grateful!"
His jaw clenched before he replied, "No doubt you would prefer me to grovel."
"I would prefer to be treated with respect. I may be poor, Sir Douglas Drury, barrister of Lincoln's Inn, but I am not a worm!"
As her eyes shone with passionate fury and her breasts rose and fell beneath her cheap gown, and those little wisps of hair brushed against her flushed cheeks, he was very well aware that she was not a worm.
She marched to the door and wrenched it open. "Since you seem well enough to walk, go!"
He stepped forward, determined to do just that, but the room began to tilt and turn as if on some kind of wobbly axis.
"Did you not hear me? I said go!" she indignantly repeated.
"I can't," he muttered as he backed up and felt for the bed, then sat heavily. "Send for a doctor."
"I am not your servant, either!"
God save him from Frenchwomen and their overwrought melodrama! "I would gladly go and happily see the last of you, but unfortunately for us both, I can't. I must be more badly injured than I thought."
She lowered her arm. "I have no money for a doctor."
Drury felt his coat. His wallet was gone. Perhaps she'd taken it. If she had, she would surely not admit it. But then why would she have brought him here? "You must tell the doctor you have come on behalf of Sir Douglas Drury. He will be paid when I return to my chambers."