She played a dangerous game. Carolyn Browne was a poor bookseller's daughter and an enlightened thinker, delighting London with her scathingly witty columns, written under the name Charles Copperville. Penetrating the town's gilded salons in male disguise, Carolyn soon throws her barbs at the wrong man-- the enigmatic Russian prince, Nicholas Sverayov.
He was a dangerous target. His notoriety, extravagances, and indulgent disregard for social convention fuel Carolyn's outrage. Nicholas has moved through the balls and soirees of high society effortlessly, a natural target of gossip, envy, and desire. But Nicholas is furious to find himself lampooned by Copperville, and quickly discovers Carolyn's dearly held secret. Now, as the two spar, a new game begins-- a game of deception and pride, of longing and chance.
And they played for the ultimate prize... As Nicholas sweeps Carolyn from the teeming streets and gala balls of Regency London to the splendor and majesty of St. Petersburg, against all odds the unlikely lovers embark upon a whirlwind of passion and peril until there is no turning back-- for the stakes have changed, demanding no less of them than the unwavering courage to claim the love of a lifetime.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|File size:||467 KB|
About the Author
Brenda Joyce is the author of 26 novels. She lives in Colorado.
Brenda Joyce is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than two dozen novels, including Deadly Pleasure and Deadly Affairs. She lives in southern Arizona with her significant other, her son, and her dogs, Arabian horses, and cat.
Read an Excerpt
LONDON, THE SUMMER OF 1812
THE crowd was impatient. Women whispered to one another behind gloved hands and mock fans, diamonds glinting on their throats, dangling from their ears, woven into their coiffed hair. The men shifted, murmured, coughed, their dark evening clothes, piped with satin, shining in the light cast by thousands of candles in the dozens of huge gilt chandeliers overhead. Invitations had specified that the festivities were to begin at nine P.M. and it was now a quarter past. Fifteen hundred guests had already arrived at the prince regent's palatial London residence, and the ballroom was so crowded that it did not seem possible for there to be any dancing that night. But finally the stream of bejeweled, magnificently gowned ladies and their escorts had slowed to a trickle. From Pall Mall to St. James, the road was clogged with barouches, phaetons, and town coaches. Liveried footmen, hussars, and bewigged drivers waited with craned necks. In the courtyard outside the residence, a Royal Guard stood as still as statues, prepared to deliver a fifty-gun salute. Even the exiled royal French family, the Bourbons, waited with growing restlessness amongst the guests. The regent was intent upon making an entrance, as usual. It seemed that he would succeed.
"You are distracted, Excellency, or you are bored?" a sultry red-haired lady asked.
He turned. He was tall and golden-haired, clad in anofficer's uniform, a dark green jacket with rows of brass buttons and gold epaulets, dozens of medals pinned upon his chest, and pale dove-gray pants. Immediately the man bowed over the lady's extended gloved hand. "Lady Carradine, you have taken me by surprise," he murmured, his English flawed with the tiniest trace of some exotic foreign accent.
"Indeed?" She smiled. "I doubt anyone can take you by surprise, Prince Sverayov."
Nicholas Ivanovitch Sverayov stood a handful of inches over six feet, which meant that he now towered over the petite woman facing him. His body was not quite lean, for the fine cut of his uniform suggested a powerful physique. Clearly his shoulders were broad, his legs long. He stared at her out of compelling amber eyes. "I am as human as anyone here." His lips turned slightly. "Contrary to the recent spate of gossip in your newspapers."
"Surely you do not read the gossip columns?" She was coy, a smile on her rouged mouth.
"Only when it is unavoidable."
"Do you know Charles Copperville?" she asked, fluttering her fan. "He certainly seems to know you!"
"If we have met, he has retained his anonymity." Sverayov's cool smile did not give any sign of what he might be thinking. "I do look forward to making his acquaintance, though, as soon as possible."
"I shudder for poor Copperville," Lady Carradine said dramatically. "Perhaps he will retract the barbs he has made against you, your mission, and your country."
He chose not to respond. He was a Sverayov, and had centuries of notorious behavior to live downnot that he cared. He was used to gossip and rumors attaching themselves to him wherever he went, for whatever he did, and because of whomever he was currently associated with. Especially at home, where every word, every action, indeed, every probable thought, of a member of the Sverayov family, no matter how far removed, was constantly speculated upon. But he was in England on state business. Technically,England and Russia were at war-and had been so ever since the Treaty of Tilsit of 1807. His reception in London had hardly been warm to begin with, and he did not need a certain satirist named Copperville stirring up more hostility against him. The tsar, Alexander, desperately needed an alliance between his empire and Britain, for Napoleon had invaded Russia three weeks ago after much posturing. Sverayov's command in the First Army had been turned over to a subordinate, much to his dismay. For he was a longtime personal friend of Alexander's, and Alexander trusted him completely in this instance.
"Of course," the very beautiful woman continued, "I cannot imagine you really caring about a single thing Copperville or anyone else has said about you." She stared him in the eye.
He knew she was referring to the recent spate of gossip, which maintained that Lord Carradine was furious at being cuckolded by that "arrogant foreigner." Apparently some threats, specific and drunken, had been made against his' person yesterday evening at White's. Sverayov was unruffled. Lord Carradine was sixty if a day, quite obese, and according to his wife, very impotent; he was hardly capable of exercising an act of vengeance.
"Perhaps I am less interested in what others think of me than what you think of me, Lady Carradine." The gallantry was automatic. Lady Carradine was enjoyable in bed, and he expected to be diverted by enjoyable companions in his leisure hours. It was a fact of his existence, and had been since he was a boy.
"Last night you were extraordinary," she said in a murmur.
He bowed slightly. "As were you." His reply was meant to keep his options open. But the truth was, he could hardly remember the particulars of their trysts last night or the two evenings prior to that. What was on his mind was Castlereagh's incredibly stubborn nature, and the fact that he must somehow break the man down. Sooner, not later, so he could return to his command. Time was running out. TheFrench had taken Vilna two days ago. Alexander, who against the judgment of most of his advisors had taken command of all the armies in the field, had himself led his troops in a complete retreat. In effect, Vilna had been abandoned.
"Can I expect you later?" Lady Carradine asked, a purr.
He was undecided, and was about to put her off, when, across the numerous heads of the crowd, he saw a couple on the stairs at the entrance to the ballroom, poised to descend. He stiffened, forgetting all about Lady Carradine.
She followed his gaze. "Has the regent finally deigned to join us?" Her words died. She squinted. Her genuine smile was gone. A parody of it remained fixed on her attractive face.
Nicholas did not hear her. He stared at the exquisite, raven-haired woman still standing on top of the short flight of steps. His pulse banged wildly. He could not believe his eyes. The black-haired woman wore a bare silver gown that left little to one's imagination. She might as well have arrived naked. And although she was petite and slim, her abdomen protruded quite discernibly. He. could only stare at her in dumbfounded shock.
"I see you are distracted," Lady Carradine said, quite evenly. "And I can see why. She is stunning."
Nicholas did not even look at her. She was pregnant, by God, and she had defied him blatantly by following him to London. He did not know which stunned him more.
But Lady Carradine was not to be put off. "Do you know her, Excellency?" Her smile was forced. "I have never seen her before, and I do know everyone. She must be from the country, or come from abroad." Her laughterand the gaze she shot at himwas uneasy. "Surely she is no country mouse."
Nicholas felt as if he were wearing a stiff papier-mâché mask. "She is my wife."
Lady Carradine started. "Of course, I assumed you were married. Isn't everyone? But I did not know she had accompanied you to London."
And neither had Nicholas. "I beg your pardon Nicholas said, bowing curtly. And then he began to make his way through the crowd.
She had seen him. She smiled, lifting one slender arm to wave a gloved hand at him. And she clung to the arm of her escort, Mikhail Fydorovski, a slim young man who was very flushed.
Nicholas paused and waited for her to come down the steps, aware of the crowd around them. Already he had been remarked, and he could feel people watching him, whispering about him. It was annoying, being in the public eye, but he was used to it. He suspected that within fifteen minutes Marie-Elena's identity would have been established, and the gossips would go wild. He would not have to be told what they were thinking and saying. Marie-Elena was commonly held to be one of the most stunning women in all of Europe, and they had been told, again and again, that together they made a striking royal couple. An image of their daughter, Katya, flitted instantly through Nicholas's mind. And with it, as always, there came a deep, profound sorrow.
"Niki, how good to see you, darling," Marie-Elena cried. She kissed his cheek, brushing her full, mostly bare breasts against his arm. Her eyes were as black as her hair, which made a startling contrast to her flawless ivory skin. She was wearing a diamond tiara in her hair, diamonds and rubies around her neck, and numerous diamond and ruby bracelets on top of her gloved wrists. "We have only just arrived," she said. Her escort had chosen to hang back, allowing them some privacy.
He stared. "Did I not leave you in St. Petersburg? Did I not make it clear that I was going abroad for the sole purpose of state affairsnot the purpose of pleasure?"
"I know what you are thinking," she said quickly, gripping his arm. "I know you decided against my accompanying you to London. But Katya has been miserable since you left," she exclaimed in her husky voice.
He started. "What do you mean, she has been miserable?"He did not try to hide his utter concern.
"She cried all night after you left, and no one, not even Leeza, could console her!" Leeza was her old, nearly blind, nurse. "I did explain that you were not going back to the army, but I do not think she believed me. Niki, you know how smart she is. She stopped eating. I grew frightened." Marie-Elena's gaze was earnest, holding his.
But very little frightened her, and Nicholas knew it. Just as he knew that his daughter was his Achilles' heel. He could deal with any situation, any crisis, anything, by God, but not Katya distraught or suffering or in any kind of pain. And his wife knew that, as well. "How did you get here?" he asked.
Her brilliant yet oddly fragile smile flashed. "Alexander provided us with a ship."
He should have guessed. The tsar was currently as fond of Marie-Elena as he was of Nicholas, and Nicholas and .Alexander had been friends since boyhood. The tsar had himself arranged their marriage with his typical enthusiasma blend of misplaced romantic idealism and stern political practicality. Marie-Elena was not just a German princess, she was the tsar's wife's cousin.
"He has also sent you a message, which I left on that desk in the library," Marie-Elena said. "Do not be angry with me, Niki. Perhaps I can be helpful to you here."
"Perhaps." His gaze wandered back to the crowd. The truth of the matter was that he knew his wife and she was selfish and spoiled and vastly used to getting her own wayby hook or by crook. She had desperately wanted to come to London with him, as if the trip were some Sunday picnic outing. He disliked her using Katya this way, but he had missed his daughter terribly, and did not know how long these damned talks would continue. And although he had insisted on being recalled if and when the treaty was concluded, that could be many months from now.
"Have a good evening, Niki," she said, smiling, shrugging free of his grasp. She tossed her blue-black head, pushing back hunks of hair with her satin-gloved fingertips,a sensual mannerism most men, Nicholas knew, admired. "And save me a dance, darling." She turned her back on him to join Fydorovski, and the pair glided off into the crowd.
And then the rifles outside blasted, fifty guns at once. Trumpets sounded just outside the ballroom. The prince regent had arrived.
"I'm glad you were free to come home with me," she said hoarsely.
"So am I." He did not consider his words. He did not even glance at her as he dressed. Lady Carradine remained in repose, her rose silk ballgown twisted about her torso, a collar of pearls about her throat. As he buttoned his snugly fitting pants, he heard her sit up and arrange her clothing more modestly. He was preoccupied.
The very last thing he needed right now was the distraction of Marie-Elena running all over London as if she owned it. She was not a discreet woman, it was not her nature, although too many times to count she had promised to be more careful. And while they had gone their separate ways for many years, in London it might be better to create an illusion that they shared a more conventional marriage. For the pendulum of public opinion often swung to their side when they did move together in societythe golden Russian prince, the beautiful German princess, a match made almost in heaven, if not by the tsar. It could very well help his mission if he could warm up the cold British fish he had thus far encountered. Until now, the British peerage had seemed curious but suspicious, and a few ladies and lords in his corner could definitely help him in his quest when he had so far come up against Castlereagh's very solid brick wall.
Nicholas suspected that someone inside of the government was working very hard to sabotage the talks. He had the strongest sixth sense about it. But he had yet to identify that manor woman.
But his wife was pregnant, shockingly so. And the Britishwere so boringly, damnably, conventional. Marie-Elena might hinder his mission far more than she might aid it. He shrugged on his jacket, adorned with a dozen rows of gold buttons and golden epaulets, rather violently.
"Nicholas? Is something wrong?" Lady Carradine moved to the side of the four-poster bed, her legs over the edge.
"I have to go. It is late." That was the truth. But it was the price paid for these kinds of encounters.
"You cannot leave now!" she exclaimed.
"It is unfortunate," he agreed, a mild lie, "but I can, and will." He reached for his ceremonial sword.
"You have been distracted all evening," she said evenly. But there was the slightest trace of hurt in her eyes.
"I am sorry." To make her feel better, he added, "I have grave matters on my mind."
She stood. "When will I ..." She hesitated. "Now that your wife has arrived, will I see you again?"
He hated messes and scenes. He did not see the point of seeing Lady Carradine again. "I do not think so."
She nodded, pursing her mouth. Then abruptly she rose, moved to him, and put her arms around him. "Let me take care of you," she whispered. "One last time."
"It's not necessary," he said, taking her hands in his and removing them from his hips.
"Then promise me that we shall see each other again." Her brown eyes searched his face. "Or have I displeased you in some way?"
"You have not displeased me, Marcia. And I am sorry to have disappointed you. But we made one another no promises."
She sank back down on the bed, watching him stride to the door. "Then it is true. What they saywhat I have heard. That you are inhuman when it comes to womenunfeeling. Incapable of love."
He paused. "If you are asking me if I am a romantic, then the answer is no," he said calmly. "I am not a poet, Marcia."
"Have you ever loved a woman, Nicholas?" she asked, her eyes glistening. "Have you ever even tried?"
The question was absurd. "What does love have to do with the few nights we shared? Did I ever speak of love? We are two adults. We have enjoyed one another's company. That is all there is to it."
"No." She smoothed her gown, as if intent on ironing out the wrinkles with her palms. "You made me no promises, but you are very compelling, Nicholas, when you wish to be. I knew I was going to fall for youjust as I knew I was going to get hurt." She blinked several times. "I have fallen in love with you."
He refrained from sighing. "I am sorry."
"Sorry," she echoed. She glanced up. "Is it because of her? Your wife? Do you love her? She is so terribly beautiful. And who was that man she was with?"
He stared. He had no intention of telling her the truth, that no, he did not love his wife and he never had, and that her escort was, probably, her latest lover. "That was a very personal question, Marcia," he said coolly.
"Do you go to her now?" Lady Carradine cried.
Nicholas bowed. "Do not disturb yourself on my account. I shall see myself out."
She rushed forward. "I apologize."
He shrugged, turned and walked across the dark room, his boots making no sound on the thick Persian rug. He unlocked the door and slipped through it. The corridor outside was lit by several wall sconces, and he walked unhurriedly downstairs, frowned upon by grim Carradine ancestors. He was feeling more than grim himself. The evening felt like a disaster, yet he hardly had cause to label it as such. And he was not a man given to premonitions.
A bleary-eyed servant snapped to attention in the foyer downstairs and let him out the front door. Nicholas's coach, black lacquer with gilt trim and a completely gilded roof, emblazoned with the Sverayov coat of arms in silver, red, and gold, was around the block, since he had no wish to blatantly advertise his presence at the Carradine residence. ,But as he strode down the sidewalk, a thin, dapper form materialized from beneath a street lamp, rushing forward. Nicholas recognized his valet immediately, a Frenchman by birth, and stiffened in surprise. "Jacques!"
"My lord." The slender, mustachioed servant reached him, out of breath. "Thank God you 'ave come. I 'ave been waiting over 'alf an houruncertain of whether to interrupt you or not."
And Nicholas knew it was an emergency. Every fiber of his being tensed. His first thought was that it was too lateNapoleon had marched on either St. Petersburg or Moscow. "What is it?" His strides lengthened.
They hurried side by side around the corner, toward the waiting coach with its four footmen, six horses, and two drivers. "It is the princess. She 'as begun to deliver the child. Two hours ago, to be exact."
Nicholas stumbled and froze. "She cannot be due for at least four more months!"
"Yes. It was four, exactly." Jacques's brown eyes were somber. "The physician says the child is already deadand your wife may die as well this night."
Nicholas could not move.
"Excellency, let me get you a drink. I have vodka in the carriage," Jacques said, holding his arm as if steadying him.
Nicholas looked at him. Jacques had to suspect the truth. "I am sorry the child is dead. But it was not mine." And there was no doubtfor he had not slept with Marie-Elena in five years.
Jacques nodded. "Oui. I thought as much, my lord."
But Nicholas did not hear him. For all her failings, and there were many, Marie-Elena might die. And she was Katya's motherand Katya was at the house. Oh, God. Nicholas came to life. "Let's go," he said.
Copyright © 1997 by Brenda Joyce.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A great read. I have always loved reading books from Brenda Joyce because she does such a wonderful job in this genre of stories. I highly recommend her books for anyone who loves reading historical romance. Happy Reading!
So very good!
I was absolutely obsess with the male lead character. (swoon) He was honorable and honest! Completely refreshing! MUST READ if you love a good laugh and a lot of flirting this is the book!
I have read this story many times and I am in love with the heroine and the Rusian Prinnce
this book is really good I recommended to anyboy
This was one of my first Brenda Joyce novels. It definitely become one of my all time favorites. I loved the storyline and the chemistry between Nicholas and Caroline!
I couldn't put this book down. I loved the characters, the whole story line, and totally fell in love with Nicholas! My heart was skipping beats. This is actually the second book that I've read by Brenda Joyce and they were both great. Now I'm already shopping for more of her books.
I loved it, I couldn't put the book down. It is definately one of my favorites.
I've owned this book for perhaps a year, and I've already read it three times. I just finished it yesterday, which was Monday, and I started it Saturday night... It's one of those books you just can't put down! I am a romance novel veteran, but this book is one of my top five favorites. I absolutely love and adore the book. I really recommend it!