He's a bastard and a gambler and society's favorite reprobate. But to Lady Kiri Lawford he's a hero--braver than the smugglers he rescues her from, more honorable than any lord she's ever met, and far more attractive than any man has a right to be. How can she not fall in love. . .?
But Damian Mackenzie has secrets that leave no room in his life for courting high-born young ladies--especially not the sister of one of his oldest friends. Yet when Kiri's quick thinking reveals a deadly threat to England's crown, Damian learns that she is nowhere near as prim and respectable as he first assumed. . .and the lady is far more alluring than any man can resist. . .
Praise for Loving a Lost Lord
"Intoxicating, romantic and utterly ravishing. . ." --Eloisa James
"Entrancing characters and a superb plotline. . ." --Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Will leave readers smiling, breathless, and anxiously awaiting the next adventure. . ." --Library Journal, starred review
"Romance at its best!" --Julia Quinn
About the Author
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Nowhere Near RespectableTHE LOST LORDS
By Mary Jo Putney
ZEBRA BOOKSCopyright © 2011 Mary Jo Putney, Inc.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneKent, late October 1812
She left with a chime of laughter, sweeping up the skirts of her riding habit and darting down the long corridor before the golden young man could finish his proposal. But when she reached the door at the end, she paused to glance over her shoulder, her expression mischievous.
The Honorable Godfrey Hitchcock smiled, blond and confident in the sunshine that had appeared after days of rain. "We shall talk later, Lady Kiri. And I shall finish what I started to ask you."
Kiri Lawford gave him the swift smile that always left men breathless, then slipped through the door. Once she was out of his sight, she slowed down, her expression thoughtful. Godfrey was charming, the most appealing suitor she'd had since her family had come to London a year before.
But did she really want to marry him?
She liked that Godfrey had joined her for this late afternoon ride even though they risked being late for dinner. She hadn't wanted to waste the rare sunshine after being trapped indoors ever since arriving at Grimes Hall for this house party. He was a first-rate rider who'd kept up with her as they galloped headlong over the hills of Kent.
Officially Kiri was only one of a number of guests at the party. But everyone understood that she was there to meet Godfrey's family while they became better acquainted in a relaxed setting. Kiri's mother had planned to come, but their household had been full of measles, so she'd remained in London.
Luckily Kiri had been staying at Ashton House with her brother and hadn't been exposed to illness. That allowed her to travel down to Kent with an older couple who were attending the house party.
The visit was going well. The Hitchcocks looked Kiri over with a thoroughness that suggested they thought she'd soon be part of the family. She found them pleasant enough, in a cool English way.
It would not be a brilliant match, since Godfrey was only the third son of a baron while Kiri was a duke's daughter. But she liked him very well. In the year since her family arrived from India, she'd found no eligible men she liked better.
Godfrey hadn't treated her like an exotic foreign slut unworthy of respect. He also kissed very nicely, which was surely a good trait in a husband, and his touch of rebelliousness matched her own. But was that a strong enough basis for marriage?
Kiri's mother came of royal Hindu blood, and despite her gentleness, she'd defied tradition to twice marry Englishmen. Both had been love matches. Kiri's father, the sixth Duke of Ashton, had died before she was born, but she had seen the love between Lakshmi and her second husband, John Stillwell. Her stepfather had been a famous general in India, and he was the only father she'd ever known. A good father, too, who treated his stepdaughter exactly the same as his own two children.
Godfrey was amusing and good company, but compared to General Stillwell, he seemed rather short on substance. Of course, most men were. Though her brother Adam measured up to the general rather well. So did most of Adam's intriguing friends, now that she thought about it. A pity they all treated her like a little sister.
But perhaps she wasn't being fair to Godfrey. They simply weren't well enough acquainted for her to know if he had hidden depths. She must accept the offer made by his mother, Lady Norland, who'd suggested Kiri stay on for another week after the formal house party ended.
Wondering if her parents would be able to come down if she stayed longer, Kiri decided to stop by Lady Norland's morning room. Her hostess would probably be there if she hadn't gone up to dress for dinner, so Kiri could ask to extend her visit. Surely another week in Godfrey's company would clarify whether they would suit.
The countess's morning room was cozy and attractive, and she spent a good deal of her time there with her female friends. Kiri quietly opened the door, then paused, seeing that Lady Norland was chatting with her sister, Lady Shrimpton. Lounging on a sofa with their backs to the door, the sisters didn't see Kiri.
Kiri could talk to her hostess later. She was on the verge of withdrawing when Lady Shrimpton said, "Is Godfrey really going to marry that Kiri creature?"
Kiri froze at the sneering tone. What on earth ...?
"It's looking likely," Lady Norland replied. "She seems quite smitten. What girl could resist a man so handsome and charming?"
"I'm surprised you and Norland would allow such a match," her sister said disapprovingly. "I wouldn't let one of my boys marry a half-breed foreigner. Such a bold, vulgar creature! I've seen the lures she casts out. Why, men sniff around her like hounds. Godfrey won't know if his children are his own."
Kiri's hand pressed to her chest as her heart pounded with shock. Her brother Adam had experienced dangerous disapproval of his mixed blood, but Kiri had been treated with more tolerance because she was a mere female, not an English duke. While some members of society disapproved of her heritage, they were usually discreet about it. She had never heard such malice directed at her.
"The chit is half English and her stepfather is General Stillwell, so she should have some sense of proper conduct." Lady Norland sounded as if she wasn't quite sure about that. "What matters is that she's a duke's daughter and will have a very generous dowry. Godfrey is expensive, and he won't find a richer wife than this one. If she foists other men's brats on him—well, he has two older brothers and they both have sons, so her blood will never taint the title."
"A good dowry does compensate for much," Lady Shrimpton said. "But you'll have to socialize with that dreadful little mother of hers. A heathen, and so dark!"
"Lady Kiri is less dark, and her dowry is golden!" Lady Norland laughed. "I suppose I mustn't give her mother the cut direct, but believe me, there will be little social intercourse between that family and ours despite the presence of General Stillwell."
Kiri's vision darkened as a red, killing rage possessed her. How dare they speak that way about her mother, who was the wisest, gentlest, kindest woman Kiri had ever known! She was a true lady by any standard. Kiri wanted to mangle both of those horrible women with her bare hands. She yearned to crush their sneers and bigotry.
She could, too. As a girl, she'd been fascinated by tales of ancient Hindu warrior queens, so she'd insisted on joining her male Hindu cousins to study the traditional Indian art of fighting called Kalarippayattu. Kiri had been one of the best students in the class, and now she burned to use her skills on those evil females.
But it would be very bad form to kill her hostess. Nor should she murder Godfrey, the lying, deceitful fortune hunter. As she turned and headed blindly to her room, she felt ill at the knowledge that she'd considered marrying the man! She wiped her fist across her mouth as if she could rub off the memory of his kisses.
Almost as infuriating as the slurs against her mother were the horrible claims that Kiri was a slut who cast out lures to men. She had been raised in military camps among men, and she enjoyed their company. From the time she was old enough to walk, General Stillwell's subordinates had teased and talked and taught her riding, hunting, and shooting. When she grew up, young officers sometimes fell desperately in love with her. Of course she was no shy English miss who was afraid of all men outside her family!
She could not stay in this house for another day, or even another hour. She entered her bedroom with relief. She would borrow a Norland horse and ride cross country to Dover, a busy port where she could easily get a coach back to London.
Hands shaking and buttons popping, she jerked off the expensive new riding habit she'd worn on her daily rides with Godfrey. She had made an effort to be an English lady in all ways, but no longer.
Free of the yards of fabric, she dug into her wardrobe for the well-worn divided riding skirt she'd brought from India. The skirt made it possible to ride astride, and she'd thought she might wear it here.
The buff-colored twill of the divided skirt settled into place with welcome familiarity. As she donned a tailored navy jacket, she glanced at herself in the wardrobe mirror. Dark hair, vivid green eyes, above average height even for an English girl. Her complexion was darker than the average Briton, but not startlingly so.
This was the true Kiri Lawford—a daughter of the empire, half English and half Hindu and proud of both heritages. In a sari and with a bindi on her brow, she would look almost entirely Indian, just as in a riding habit she looked almost entirely English.
But never fully one or the other. She could not change that about herself. Nor did she want to. Especially not to please spiteful cats like Lady Norland and her sister.
She could carry little on horseback, so she scanned the room to see if there was anything she must take besides her money. She'd brought some of her finest outfits, but she wouldn't stay here merely to protect her wardrobe.
She wrapped her jewelry in a change of linen, then an Indian shawl. Tucked in a leather pouch, the bundle would pack unobtrusively behind her saddle.
Much as she wanted to storm out of the house, she had been too well raised to leave without a word. She must write a note to the woman she'd traveled down with, which would be easy. Also a note to Godfrey, which would not be easy, but she couldn't bring herself to address Lady Norland directly. She sat at the desk, wanting to rage at him. But mere paper could not contain her fury.
She settled for scrawling, You must find another fortune to hunt. Please send my belongings to Ashton House. She deliberately specified her brother's ducal mansion. Though these people might consider her a slut, by God, she was a high-born slut.
Since Kiri's maid had been trapped in the measles quarantine, she'd been assigned a Norland girl of small skill and less personality. Kiri left a generous vail for the girl's service, then swept from the room.
Luckily she didn't see any of the Hitchcocks or other houseguests on her way downstairs and out to the stables. She knew which horse she wanted—Chieftain, a splendid blood bay gelding belonging to Godfrey's oldest brother, George Hitchcock. George, the pompous heir to the title, married to a bland blonde and with two sturdily English, towheaded sons. He didn't deserve so fine a horse. She'd been longing to ride it.
The stables were quiet and she guessed that the grooms were eating their supper. No matter, she'd made friends with Chieftain during the past week. She paused over which saddle to use.
Godfrey's was a good size, but using anything of his would make her skin crawl, so she chose anonymous tack. It took her only a few minutes to saddle Chieftain and walk him out of the stable. She swung onto the horse as easily as any man, turned Chieftain toward Dover, and left Grimes Hall forever.
Chapter TwoA good thing Kiri had her anger to keep her warm, she thought acidly, or she'd be shivering. The late October night fell quickly as the sky clouded up, and the temperature dropped like a stone. Though Chieftain was a splendid mount, progress was slow because the ground was muddy from several days of rain. The track she was following north to Dover twisted up and down through the rugged hills, which slowed her even more.
But Dover was only a few miles farther. She couldn't miss it as long as she followed this track, which paralleled the coast. She would spend the night in an inn—a nice, warm inn—and take a coach back to London in the morning. It would be interesting to ride a public coach instead of a luxurious private carriage. She liked new experiences, even if they were likely to be uncomfortable.
The track descended a hill in a narrow cut that was barely wide enough for a horse and rider. A good thing she was in relatively safe England rather than India, where bands of dacoits might lie in wait.
She was contemplating a roaring fireplace when she rounded a bend and found herself face-to-face with a pack train of heavily laden ponies heading upland. What the devil ...? It took a moment for Kiri to sort out the jumble of rough-looking men, ponies, and tightly shielded lanterns.
Smugglers! As soon as the thought crossed her mind, she tried to pull Chieftain around so they could escape, but the free traders had also recovered from their surprise. "Get 'im!" a sharp voice bellowed. "Can't let a stranger see us!"
A smuggler lunged at Kiri. She slashed her riding crop across his face while applying her heels to Chieftain. But more men grabbed her and the track was so narrow the horse couldn't turn quickly. She kicked two men away, slashed others with her whip, but before she could win free, the sharp voice shouted, "Jed, use yer bird net!"
A weighted, malodorous net flew through the air and dropped over her, entangling arms and legs. As she struggled to free herself, her assailants dragged her from her horse. She slammed to the ground with bruising force and exploded into furious Hindi curses.
A redheaded trader grabbed her and exclaimed, "Jesus, it's a bloody woman!"
"Wearing trousers and riding astride?" another said skeptically.
"I know a tit when I feel one!"
A lean man with a long, morose face approached and knelt beside Kiri. Her hat had come off, and in the narrow beam of a lantern, her face was clearly visible. "'Tis a woman, right enough," he said in the leader's voice. "Or rather a girl. She was babbling in some foreign language. Do you speak English, gal?"
"Better than you do!" She tried to knee him in the groin but was too trapped by the net to manage it.
"In those trousers, Captain Hawk, she's mebbe a whore," a smuggler remarked.
"I'm no whore!" Kiri cursed them again, this time in English and using the filthiest language a little girl could learn in an army cantonment.
"Mebbe not be a whore, but she sure ain't no lady," a man said rather admiringly.
"Gag and blindfold her," Hawk said tersely. "Then tie her up and toss her over her saddle. Howard, Jed, take her down to the cave and make sure she don't get away. Mac the Knife is coming tonight, so make him welcome if he arrives before we get back. We'll figure out what to do with 'er then."
"I already know what to do to her, Captain," a man said with a lewd chuckle.
"We'll have none of that," Hawk said as he admired Chieftain. "This horse is worth a pretty penny, so the girl might be valuable, too."
"We need to be careful," the heavyset man warned. "If her people are too important, asking for ransom might bring a troop of soldiers out here looking for us. Safer to roger her, then toss her off a boat with a few rocks for weight."
Kiri stiffened. If they learned she was sister to a duke, they might be so afraid of consequences they'd kill her out of hand. She unobtrusively used her right thumb to turn her ring so the diamonds were underneath and only a plain band showed on top. "I'm neither rich nor important, so no need to murder me."
"You talk like money." The captain's eyes narrowed. "What's your name?"
She thought quickly for a name close to her own. "Carrie Ford."
"Some Fords over in Deal," a man volunteered. "She don't look like one of 'em."
Stick to the truth when possible. She said, "I'm from London, not Deal."
"Where did you get your fancy horse?" Hawk asked.
Her mouth twisted. "I stole him to get away from a man who lied to me." Which had the advantage of being true.
The smugglers laughed. "Sounds like she's our kind of woman," one said.
"Could be she's lying." Hawk scowled. "We'll figure that out later. For now, truss 'er up and don't damage her. We need to be moving."
Despite Kiri's furious struggles, the smugglers were able to peel the net off her upper body and tie her wrists with a length of thin, hard line. She wanted to scream with frustration because she couldn't free herself to fight properly. She should have been carrying a knife, but she had wanted to be genteel for the wretched Norland house party.
Excerpted from Nowhere Near Respectable by Mary Jo Putney Copyright © 2011 by Mary Jo Putney, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of ZEBRA BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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