When Justin, Earl of Linton, found a half-starved child on the streets of Paris in the highly charged days before the Terror, his only thought was a bit of charity. He never imagined he would find an incomparably lovely young woman beneath tattered boys' clothing--or that she would inspire in him a passion more intense than any he had ever known. But the beautiful Danielle had more secrets in store. . .and Justin would soon learn that one of them was a need for vengeance that might endanger them both.
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The tall elegant figure paused thoughtfully at the corner of the Fauborg St.-Honoré and cast a quick glance down the narrow paved alley on his left. He brushed an imaginary speck of dirt from his silver Mechlin lace peeping beneath a richly brocaded cuff before turning into the alley toward the sounds of altercation. It was not the Earl of Linton's custom to involve himself in street brawls, particularly in Parisian back alleys, but, if the truth were told, he was somewhat bored this fine spring afternoon and the disproportionate sizes of the antagonists offended his sense of fair play. A diminutive urchin, a mere scrap of humanity, was struggling manfully in the hold of an enormous bear of a man whose flour-dusted apron bore ample witness to his profession. The baker's attempts to wield a heavy leather belt were hampered by his intended victim, who, as slippery as an eel and with the teeth and claws of a wildcat, seemed, reflected the earl lazily, to be putting up a magnificent fight. So far his assailant was having too much trouble merely getting a grip on the squirming little figure to be able to use the belt as he so clearly intended. That, however, was only a matter of time given the indisputable physical facts. As if in confirmation of this thought an agonized yelp accompanied the loud crack as the weapon found its mark and the earl lengthened his stride. The language rending the street from both participants would not have been out of place on the quay at Marseille and the urchin seemed well able to hold his own in the verbal arena at least. The next minute he had sunk his teeth with desperate strength into the hand holding him, and the agonized yell this time came from the baker. The belt cracked viciously again and his lordship decided it was time to make his move.
The slender silver-mounted cane caught the brawny forearm as it swung back in preparation for another blow.
"Enough, I think," the earl said gently, catching the thick wrist between elegant fingers, squeezing with surprising strength until the astounded baker lost his grip on the belt and it fell to the mired cobblestones. The next instant the tiny figure, taking advantage of the suddenly slackened hold, drove a small fist upwards into his enemy's groin and the baker capitulated with a heavy groan, doubling over the excruciating pain rending his belly.
"Mon Dieu, but you fight dirty, mon ami," the earl murmured, reaching with an almost lethargic gesture to catch a bony arm as the creature turned to run. "If you run through the streets, mon enfant, you will be noticed and pursued."
His soft statement stilled the diminutive figure. An escaping urchin would most certainly be chased on the assumption that he was running from trouble.
"When you are caught," His Lordship emphasized calmly, "I am sure this gentleman here will enjoy his revenge. Some might even say he was entitled to it." He regarded the gasping, choking mountain with scant interest before turning back to his captive.
"He 'urt me," a mutinous voice muttered, a hand rubbing the small sore backside, "and jest for a crust o' yesterday's bread." The rebellious tone was belied by a sheen of unshed tears in the over-large brown eyes and a tiny defiant sniff accompanied the swift movement of a grimy, ragged forearm wiping a pert nose. The earl winced — the gesture seemed to have spread more dirt than it removed.
"Come, I think we should take ourselves away before your friend here recovers." With a grimace that was not lost on the urchin he seized a small grubby paw in an elegant, long-fingered hand and began to retrace his steps toward the broader thoroughfare.
"Tell me about yesterday's loaf," he invited, maintaining his tight grip on the tiny hand struggling to pull away.
"Would only a' gone to the pigs," the voice mumbled. "Don't seem right when people are 'ungry."
"Quite so," His Lordship concurred smoothly. "And you, I take it, are hungry?" It was an unnecessary question — the tiny figure half running beside him was, for all its wiry strength, almost fleshless. Not unusual, of course, in this year of grace, 1789, and the Earl of Linton was well accustomed to the unpleasant facts of a social system that necessitated the poverty of the majority in order to provide for the greater comfort of the elite minority. But something about this filthy little bantam with a mouth as dirty as his person stirred an unusual interest in the normally hardened, disillusioned breast of this member of that elite. Probably boredom, the earl thought dismissively, heedless of the curious glances their progress brought. The sight of an immaculate aristocrat hand in hand with a backstreet waif was certainly unusual enough to provoke speculative interest.
"Where you takin' me?" A sudden tug on his hand brought him out of his reverie and he glanced down at the small anxious face peering up through its layers of grime. "I ain't done nothin' wrong."
"I find that hard to believe," he replied with a short laugh and then, seeing the sudden frightened appeal in those huge eyes, reassured," I am just going to put some food in your belly." And get rid of that dirt, he added silently. But that part of the plan had best be kept to himself, at least for the time being. He rather suspected that soap and hot water would be considered as much an assault on this small body as the application of the baker's belt.
"What's your name, child?"
"Danny" came the prompt response.
"He decided to let that go for the time being. "How old are you, Danny?"
"How old d'ya think?"
The earl frowned slightly at the aggressive tilt of the small chin. If they were to pursue their acquaintance this street-wise waif was going to have to learn some manners. But maybe now was not an opportune moment — first things first.
"About twelve," he replied mildly.
It was clearly going to have to, Linton mused as they reached the heavy double doors leading into the cobbled courtyard of the inn that had enjoyed the patronage of the house of Linton for many years.
The child hung back, digging the heels of his rough wooden clogs into the mud of the gutter. "Ain't goin' in there!"
"You most certainly are, my friend." A hard tug on the small hand and the unwilling body was pried loose from the mud and hauled willy-nilly into the courtyard.
"Take your cap off," the earl instructed smoothly as he pulled the reluctant urchin beside him into the cool, darkened passageway of the inn. When the boy showed no inclination to comply he took the ragged object between finger and thumb with a grimace of distaste and dropped it to the stone-flagged floor. His eyes widened in amazement at the haircut thus revealed, but he was prevented from immediate comment.
"Ah, Milord Linton, j'espère que vous avez ..." The cheery greeting of the rotund landlord died as he caught sight of his guest's companion. The sharp blue eyes lost their superficial warmth, narrowed and hardened. "Cochon!" he hissed, moving steadily on the small figure. "You dare to come in here, you filthy little guttersnipe." He got no further. A small foot swung, catching him on the calf with a wooden sole and a tirade of backstreet abuse poured forth from the suddenly rigid, enraged youth.
"Tais-toi!" The earl jerked the hand in his with sufficient force to cause sharp pain in its owner's shoulders. Danny, with a gasp, fell silent.
"Your eyes, Monsieur Trimbel, must be becoming dim," Linton said coldly. "Can you not see that I have the child by the hand? He is here at my invitation."
"Mais, milord. Je m'excuse, mais ..." Monsieur Trimbel stuttered, glancing over his shoulder, wondering miserably what his other guests would think of having their quiet, elegant haven sullied by the presence of this street urchin.
"You are excused," His Lordship said softly. "But just this once, you understand?"
The landlord's forehead almost reached his knees — no mean feat given the size of his belly — as he stammered his reiterated apologies. Linton made for the stairs, ignoring the groveling figure behind him until he became aware of the antics of his suddenly acquired charge. The little vagabond was prancing lightly on the balls of his feet, tongue out, thumb cocked on the tip of his nose at the enraged landlord.
"Good lord! I begin to suspect the baker knew what he was about — I should have left you to him, you outrageous brat!" He swung the child in front of him, laying a firm hand on the small buttocks propelling him upward. Danny's triumphant smirk died away as he heard his self-appointed guardian demand over his shoulder a tub of very hot water, soap, and towels immediately.
They reached the first landing and the earl struggled to maintain his grip on the suddenly desperate, squirming, wriggling body with one hand while he unlatched a wooden door with the other.
"Be still, you ridiculous infant," he demanded in exasperation pushing him into the room with an ungentle shove, kicking the door shut after them.
"I'm not going to hurt you," he began more gently and then swore violently as the urchin launched himself in full attack, nails and teeth searching for purchase as wooden shod feet flailed against Linton's immaculately clad legs.
"You hell-born brat!" Now totally exasperated and not a little anxious for his fine garments, not to mention his skin, the earl caught the spitting creature around an amazingly small waist lifting him high in the air, holding him at the full extent of his long arms. The shock of losing the ground beneath his feet temporarily stilled the wildly thrashing Danny, and in the manner of a true campaigner Linton took immediate advantage of his opponent's momentary disarmament and tossed him unceremoniously onto the bed.
"You move from there, brat, and I'll finish what the baker started!" he gritted, bending to brush the dust from the dove-colored silken stockings, rubbing against a bruised shin in the process. It would indeed have gone ill with the urchin at that point had he attempted to move. However, although the brown eyes smoldered and the breath came quick and fast, the boy remained on the bed. If the earl had chanced to look, he would have seen a speculative, calculating gleam in the over-big eyes as Danny quieted himself, but a brisk knock on the door provided distraction.
A procession of serving wenches with jugs of hot water and two lackeys struggling beneath the weight of an enormous porcelain tub marched into the room. Danny watched their preparations, grim desperation in eyes that flicked wildly to the half-open door. But the tall figure of his erstwhile savior blocked the escape route. All gratitude for Milord's intervention in the fracas with the baker had now vanished, and if faced with the choice between the belt and the tub of water, there would have been no contest.
Steam rose from the bath as the last jug of water hissed to join its fellows and, with a bow, the procession left the chamber. The firm click of the door rang a knell in the boy's miserable ears.
"Milord," he began hesitantly. "You don't quite understand ..."
"I understand perfectly," the earl interrupted curtly, still mindful of his bruised shin. "You have more layers of dirt on you than you have skin. God only knows when you last saw water! Now, get those rags off and get in the tub." Hard hands grasped the boy's upper arms lifting him off the bed. As his feet touched ground, Danny made a last desperate bid for the door.
"What in Hades is the matter with you?" Linton hissed furiously. "A little water won't harm you." He reached for the neck of the ragged shirt, and as Danny wrenched himself sideways, the threadbare material split with a harsh rending sound.
Total silence filled the room for a breathless moment. Justin, Earl of Linton, released his hold and stepped back, for once in his thirty-four years completely nonplussed.
"It seems I didn't understand," he murmured, pulling his eyes away from the enchanting prospect of two small but perfectly formed breasts, their rose coral tips jutting as defiantly, it seemed, as the small pointed chin above. He noticed absently that the girl — undoubtedly a girl — made no attempt to shield herself, merely stood, shoulders back, eyes glaring a challenge.
"So, milord, what do you choose to do with me now?"
He inhaled sharply, even more thoroughly taken aback. That was not the voice of a street urchin. She, whoever she was, had issued her challenge in the well accented, carefully modulated speech of a French aristocrat.
"Who are you?" he demanded harshly.
"My name is Danny" came the soft, determined reply.
"Not good enough, my child." Her refusal to cover herself suddenly irritated him. He was not used to being made to feel ridiculous. With a swift movement he seized the thin arms, pulling them away from her sides, his eyes deliberately raking the bare breasts.
"No Daniel carried quite such a sweetly adorned body." His words and eyes embedded their sharp insults like shards of steel in a spirit more vulnerable than he realized. Hurt darkened those deep velvet eyes sunk in the small, pinched, dirty face and he gave a sudden rueful sigh as he released her.
"Your name, brat?" he demanded, going over to the bath, running a hand through the water to test its temperature.
"Do not imagine, Mademoiselle Danielle, that I shall be satisfied with that," he warned softly, turning back to the still figure. "But for now, I intend to proceed as I began. Are you going to take off those filthy britches, or am I?"
The look of horror flashing across the drawn face, hanging in the liquid pools of her eyes, convinced him of one thing. Whatever else she might be, this girl/waif was no wanton.
Deliberately he turned his back, crossed the sun-filled chamber to a small rosewood table by the mullioned casement, poured a glass of sherry from the decanter and, as deliberately, hooked a chair to face the window and sat, gazing with unwarranted interest at the street scene below.
Danielle looked at the averted back for no more than an instant before stripping off her remaining garments and sliding into the hot water with a sigh of contentment that was not lost on her companion.
"Don't forget to wash your hair while you are about it," he remarked coolly. "What's left of it, anyway. I've a fancy to see what color it is under all that dirt."
Silence reigned for a very long time, disturbed only by the occasional splash of water and the soft murmur as the earl refilled his glass. The afternoon sun left the room and Danielle wrestled with the problem of how she was to get out of the bath while retaining what little modesty remained to her.
"Milord," she said eventually. The only response was a slight stiffening of those broad shoulders, but confident that she had his attention she continued. Since you have torn my shirt I am in something of a puzzle as to how I should clothe myself. The water is becoming a little chilly, you see," she added in apologetic explanation.
"Those clothes of yours are fit only for the furnace" came the rumbled reply.
"In that case, milord, what do you suggest? Perhaps you wish me to remain naked for your pleasure?"
The insolently dulcet tones brought the hairs on his spine to prickly rigidity.
"Mon enfant, I most fervently suggest you watch your tongue. Unless, of course, you've a mind to add to your bruises." Rising swiftly, Linton strode with the hard-padded pace of a caged tiger across the room to the large cherrywood armoire. He selected a soft lawn shirt with lace edging to sleeves and neck and tossed it beside the tub. The small figure shrank beneath the scummy water as his eyes ran lazily over her.
"If you do not wish to come out as dirty as you went in, I also suggest that you get out now." He turned back to the window and with considerable relief Danielle hauled herself out of the disgustingly dirty water. It seemed that her savior/captor, whilst not averse to making certain physical threats appropriate to the treatment of a recalcitrant child, was not interested in molesting her as a woman. The realization, though it brought relief, also paradoxically brought a sense of pique that surprised and annoyed her. She had played the boy for so long now it was ridiculous that she should be offended by this refusal to acknowledge what she had once been taught to accept were not inconsiderable charms.
She dried herself hastily, casting anxious glances at the averted back. She hadn't been this clean for months — a quick dip in a horse trough or a rough, freezing scrub under a backyard pump had been the best she could manage and she now inhaled deeply of the soapy clean fragrance of her warm dry limbs. The lawn shirt caressed her body with its unfamiliar soft fineness and her fingers fumbled with the delicate pearl buttons in her haste to cover herself before the figure at the window turned around. What had the landlord called him? ... Ah, Milord Linton, that was it. An English name, surely? But his French was impeccable.
"Are you dressed?" the cool voice questioned.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Love's Charade"
Copyright © 1986 Jane Feather.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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.
Table of Contents
LOVE IN HIDING,
Books by Jane Feather,
Part F: The Chrysalis,
Part 2: Out of the Chrysalis,
Part 3: The Butterfly,
Epilogue - August 1794,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is not a romance novel, this is a love story. It showcases the true, deep, abiding, and enduring love of THE BEST characters Jane Feather has EVER written. I have loved this book from it's first printing. And no, it's nothing like her 'V' series... its darker, realer, and MUCH more compelling.
Best book ever. I have loved Justin and Danielle since I first read the book when it was first published in the 80's. Beloved Enemy is another one of Jane Feathers which is on my read again and again.
The plot line had potential, as did the heroine and hero. Justin was a wonderful hero, absolutely perfect. It started out well but I thought the romance got dragged out for too long, leaving me wondering when the book was going to end. It was interesting in what happens, but it's just not a very good 'Romance.' Try Jane Feather's 'V' series, and her Bride Trilogy, instead.