A headlong flight across London to stop an elopement leads to a hasty wedding between strangers....A sizzling new romance for fans of Sarah MacLean and Elizabeth Hoyt.
Harold Rayburn is about to be taken for the ride of his life…
After having his proposal rejected by a beautiful but flighty woman, Harry vows he is done with unpredictable and impetuous women for good. Until beautiful and fierce Leannah Wakefield barrels into his life, inadvertently kidnapping him while on a wild carriage ride and leaving him all too eager to get back in the saddle…
Leannah would sacrifice everything to protect her family. So upon hearing of her sister’s intended elopement, she races across London to stop the ill-advised ceremony before it can happen. However, when her mad journey picks her up an unlikely stowaway, one who ignites her desire beyond all reason, she’s the one who ends up hastily wedding a handsome and secretive stranger.
But as Leannah and Harry immediately encounter opposition, jealousy, and suspicion of their hurried nuptials, they begin to doubt that their unquenchable passion can truly lead to a happy marriage—especially when both the bride and groom have devastating secrets to hide…
~"Scintillating" --Publishers Weekly (starred review)
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||4.10(w) x 6.50(h) x 1.10(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
“Good evening, Mr. Rayburn.” Sir Ignatius Featherington held out his thin, dry hand. “And a warm welcome for this chill evening.”
“Thank you, sir.” Harry Rayburn took the hand Sir Ignatius extended carefully. He was always afraid he might break the small, smiling man. Sir Ignatius, like the rest of his family, lived up to his name—being from a clan of small, slight, soft-spoken people. In Agnes, their oldest daughter, and the reason for Harry’s visit this evening, that slight frame translated into a perfect, pale delicacy of the sort generally compared to all manner of flowers.
“Nancy, go and tell Miss Featherington that Mr. Rayburn is here to see her.” The stooped, gray-haired baronet was still beaming as he gave his instructions to the parlor maid, and still attempting to give Harry’s hand a hearty shake. “Now, Mrs. Featherington and I will be taking a bit of a drive. I’m sure our absence won’t discommode either of you young people.” He let one eyelid droop in an attempt at a wink.
“I sincerely hope not, sir.” The jewel box made a reassuring weight in Harry’s right pocket. He himself felt as light as a Featherington. His heart alternately brimmed with happiness and beat out of control from an emotion uncomfortably close to terror. Which in and of itself was as it should be, he decided. It made the moment real. Tonight, he would propose. After tonight Agnes—lovely, perfect Agnes—would be his flower, his jewel, forever.
The maid returned and curtsied. “Miss Featherington says she will be glad to meet Mr. Rayburn in the front parlor.”
“Oh, no need, Nancy, Mr. Rayburn can go to her in the sitting room.” Mr. Featherington patted Harry’s back. “And let me say again, we are happy, very happy, to have you here, Mr. Rayburn.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Harry seriously. He tried to fish out some words about doing his utmost to make her happy, but none came. It didn’t seem to matter. Sir Ignatius gave his hand another squeeze, blinked his watery eyes, and smiled with encouragement. Harry turned, squared his shoulders, and started up the hall.
When he reached the door, Harry put his hand in his pocket and touched the box as if for luck. Not that he needed luck. Everything was exactly as it should be. He had been courting Agnes Featherington for the best part of the season, ever since he’d come back from that last, disastrous trip to Calais, in fact. He’d spent the entire winter navigating balls and dinners and concerts, and doing absolutely everything required to make himself into a desirable beau. Sir and Lady Ignatius made no secret of the fact that they considered him highly eligible as a suitor for their beautiful daughter, which was a relief. Harry was a merchant’s son. This meant there were plenty of matrons who considered him second-class goods, despite the fortune he brought with him. The senior Featheringtons, however, possessed no such scruples, and from the beginning had welcomed his presence. Harry’s parents had seemed quietly content to let the matter take its own course. Indeed, the only hitch in the entire affair had been his sister Fiona’s habit of calling the object of his intentions “Agnes Featherhead.”
But now was not the time to worry about Fiona. Harry ran his hand over his hair (ruthlessly slicked back), and down his side whiskers (freshly trimmed). He straightened the cravat he’d spent hours tying in the new “Grecian waterfall” style, and brushed down the sleeves of his coffee brown coat. He checked the location of the ring box once more—right pocket, just where it had been all the other times he’d checked. Only then did Harry take a deep breath, and knock on the door.
“Come in,” answered the sweet, entirely feminine voice from the other side.
Harry pushed open the door, and there she was, just as he had pictured her. Agnes Featherington sat on the chintz sofa. The rich evening sunlight streamed through the bow windows and glimmered on the golden ringlets that trailed across her swanlike neck. She wore a white evening frock with delicate primrose trim. Dainty primrose slippers peeped out from under her hems, and her fair head was bent over a piece of embroidery, also primroses.
Harry’s heart swelled with a flood of fresh affection. Agnes was slender, pale, and lovely; the perfect girl, in every way.
From his basket by the fire, Percival, Agnes’s unfortunately overfed Maltese dog, lifted his head and growled.
For once, Harry was able to ignore the beast. All his attention was fastened on Agnes. She was like a fairy-tale princess seated in her bower. Agnes was everything that was pure and true and lovely. She would do credit to the home of any man, and she would bring him everything he needed to make a good, settled life.
She was no fool, either, no matter what Fi thought. There was a great stack of books on the table at her elbow—poetry and novels and histories. They’d have plenty to talk about in the evenings when he came home from his work, on those occasions when they felt like talking. Harry rather expected there was a whole host of far more energetic activities that would be filling their evenings after the wedding.
Agnes lifted her heart-shaped face, and her blue eyes widened. There was the tiniest hint of maidenly hesitation before her tiny pink mouth bent into a smile. “Oh, Mr. Rayburn! I wasn’t expecting you this evening.”
Which was perhaps a little odd, considering he’d just been announced. Harry decided she was joking, and smiled as he made his bow. “I hope I’m not inconveniencing you by calling?”
“Not in the least.” Agnes laid her embroidery aside. “Won’t you sit down? Shall I ring for tea?”
“No, no thank you. I don’t want anything.” Except you. But of course he couldn’t say that. Agnes was dainty and innocent. He could not shock her with such a blunt statement. That was also exactly as it should be.
Harry sat on the edge of the slick velveteen chair, which creaked ominously under his weight. The furniture had been chosen to suit a family of Featheringtons, meaning it was delicate and spindly, and perhaps a bit overgenerous in the matter of curlicues and gilt trim.
He did not let himself touch his pocket again. “Miss Featherington . . .” he began.
Agnes clasped her pale hands in her lap and blinked her china blue eyes. “Yes, Mr. Rayburn?”
His mouth had gone dry. He shifted his weight. The chair creaked. Percival barked once in sharp warning. “Miss Featherington, Agnes, I’m here for a very particular purpose.”
“Yes, Mr. Rayburn?” She blinked again. For a moment he thought she looked perplexed. Could it be he was her first suitor? Her first love? That was perfect, too. He would have to be very gentle with her. Indulgent. She’d have little whims and small worries. That was all right. He’d make a home that was just as perfect as she was; a beautiful, peaceful setting for this priceless gem.
He felt too big for this delicate room, for this perfect, tiny golden girl. He realized he was trembling a little as he moved from the chair, down onto one knee. He took her doll-like hand between both of his.
“Agnes, it is my wish, my very great hope, that you will do me the honor of becoming my wife.”
He brought out the box and opened it to reveal the ring. He’d spent days agonizing over the purchase. It had to be rich, but not ostentatious. He’d settled on a blue diamond, to match the shade of her eyes, and double-cut for the shine. He held it out now and watched those blue eyes widen. His heart swelled. This was so right, so perfect. The rough life he had known was behind him. He could settle down for good now, and forget everything but being a husband worthy of Agnes. She, in return, would make his home an oasis of calm and beauty.
Agnes lifted her eyes from the ring. Those eyes were bright with wonder, and she pressed her free hand to her lips in utter surprise.
* * *
“And then she says, ‘You must be joking, Mr. Rayburn!’”
“Oh, Harry, I’m sorry.”
Harry didn’t even bother to look at Fiona. Instead, he stared at the small, red box in his hands. He knew coming back home was a bad idea, but he’d been unable to think of where else to go. After all, he’d fully expected to be spending the evening happily ensconced in the Featherington’s home with his new fiancée, receiving congratulations and discussing wedding plans.
Instead, here he was on the sofa with his sister—his married sister—staring at the little velvet box with its half-carat, double-cut blue diamond on a band of eighteen-karat gold. It would be perfect for “the young gentleman’s purpose,” or so the jeweler had assured him as he wrote out the bill. Harry turned it over in his fingers again.
“I did everything,” said Harry to the ring and the memory. “I waltzed. I quadrilled. I had to beat off at least six other fellows at every ball to get onto her dance card. I fetched more cups of punch than I can count. And those endless poseys.” Harry closed his eyes against the fresh pain of remembering how many hours he’d wasted in the flower shops, thumbing through that ridiculous little pamphlet on the “language of flowers” and debating the exact right combination of white, pink, yellow roses, forget-me-nots, pansies, and Lord knew what else to send Agnes. She’d even worn some of them. “Her parents were all for it. Anxious for it, in fact.”
That, he supposed glumly, should have been some sort of clue; not that he had been looking for clues. He hadn’t been looking for anything, except Agnes’s little hand on his arm.
“I walked her blasted dog, for God’s sake. I’ve got the scars to prove it!”
“Don’t swear at me, Harry,” said Fi tartly. “I just told you it wasn’t your fault.”
“I know, I know. I’m sorry.”
Fiona, now the Honorable Mrs. James Westbrook, was not long back from her own wedding trip. Married life, a trek across the Continent, and a new, grand home in the Lake District, all seemed to agree with her. Fi might look the part of the quintessential English rose, but she’d always been too clever by half. Her seasons in London had been marked by all sorts of interesting adventures, until James Westbrook arrived to take her in hand. Since she’d been back, though, it seemed to Harry his sister’s cleverness had mellowed. She seemed both more contented and more, well, grown-up than he’d ever known her to be. She was staying with their parents because James was off in Cornwall on business and she hadn’t wanted to be in London alone. From the way Mother was humming as she moved around the house, Harry suspected there might be something in the wind involving a new branch on the Westbrook family tree.
“It’s really not your fault.” Fi reached out and squeezed his hand. “You’re a nice man, Harry. Steady. Solid. That’s not what a girl like Agnes Featherhead wants.”
Fi did not bother to acknowledge the correction. “She wants a poet or, better still, a highwayman who will come riding in off the moors with a bunch of lace at his throat and a pistol at his side.”
“In short, she doesn’t want me because I’m boring.” He shouldn’t have come home. The last person a man disappointed in love wanted to pour his heart out to was his happily married sister. He could only thank his lucky stars that his parents weren’t home. They’d of course been aware of his errand. Probably Father had taken Mother out somewhere to distract her until Harry returned with the presumably happy news.
“You are not boring, Harry,” Fi was saying. “You’re . . .”
“A perfectly nice man. Solid. Steady.” So solid I live with my parents in their town house rather than in rooms like a proper bachelor about the town. So steady I hold down a job in a warehouse rather than spend my days swanning about the moors with lace and a pistol.
He was actually quite a good shot. Perhaps if he’d demonstrated that to Agnes, he’d have taken on some of the romantic bronze she seemed to want. No. Harry pushed his hair back from his forehead. If he’d had a pistol to hand, he would have been far too tempted to shoot that vicious little dog.
No. He wouldn’t have, either. Because he was nice, solid, steady, Harold Syverson Rayburn. But even as he thought this, an image flashed through his mind, unbidden and entirely unwelcome—of the cobbled alley, the shouts, the last shove, and the man sprawled at his feet . . .
No. He snapped the ring box shut. That wasn’t him. That was someone else. He’d left that other man behind in Calais when he came home. He really was steady Harry Rayburn, and he didn’t want any other sort of life. The problem, it appeared, was that Agnes did.
“There are far worse things to be than steady,” Fiona was saying. “One day . . .”
“Yes, yes, yes, all right.” Harry got to his feet and started for the door before he had to listen to Fiona parroting their mother’s words about how he would one day find a girl who could appreciate all his good qualities.
“Harry?” said Fi behind him. “Agnes Featherhead is an idiot, and she could never be the sort of woman you need.”
She did not say, “As I told you,” and she did not say, “What were you thinking?” Harry, for his part, did not demand to know how his sister could possibly understand what sort of woman he needed.
“You’ll let Mother and Father know?” he asked instead. “I need to be . . . somewhere else.”
He heard Fiona agreeing, but didn’t bother to look back. Instead, he retrieved his hat where he’d left it on the hall table and headed out into the street. What he needed was a drink or a dozen, and to be away from women.
Harry settled his hat lower on his head and across the square toward St. James Street, and the one place he could be sure of an entirely masculine welcome.
When Harry arrived at the Silk Road Club, it wasn’t even ten o’clock, and the club room was less than half full. Most of the members would still either be home at dinner, or out on the town. But Nathaniel Penrose was there, and he raised his glass as Harry walked in. Harry grunted in answer and headed directly for the sideboard and its collection of bottles. Most of the club members were merchants of one sort or the other, and club rules required they help keep the cellars stocked. This meant that the Silk Road had some of the best, and hardest to find, spirits in London, which was exactly what Harry wanted.
He’d hoped the walk here would help clear his head, but the more he played the farce of his proposal over in his thoughts, the harder bitterness dug into him. Wine, port, and brandy were all far too weak for what he needed. He unstoppered the scotch whiskey.
“I take it things did not go well,” said Nathaniel. Nathaniel was not in trade, at least not directly. He worked with the naval office, but he never said exactly what he did there. It was widely suspected it involved ferretting out smugglers and insurance frauds, but if anyone knew for sure, they held their peace on the subject.
Harry poured a good two fingers into a glass and swallowed it down in one burning gulp. He set the glass down with a sharp clack, and poured another.
Harry saluted Nathaniel with his glass, and knocked back the second whiskey. “You can’t be serious, Mr. Rayburn,” he drawled.
“Ouch. Better bring that over here.”
Harry collected glass and bottle and dropped into the chair beside Nathaniel. “What the hell was I thinking?” he demanded.
“You weren’t.” Nathaniel took up the bottle before Harry could, and poured out two measures of whiskey, both, Harry noted grumpily, rather smaller than the ones he’d just downed. “It’s what girls like that count on.”
“You are speaking of the love of my life Miss Agnes Featherhead.” No. That wasn’t right. He shouldn’t call her that. Christ and damn, he didn’t even have the excuse of being drunk yet. It must be the heartbreak. Heartbreak made a man mean.
“Harry, everybody makes an ass of himself once in a while. This was just your turn.”
“The consolations of philosophy.” Harry raised the glass in a toast and gulped down the drink.
Nathaniel shrugged. “It’s true. Eventually, every man meets a woman who makes him go out of his mind.”
“I thought that was this ‘true love’ I keep hearing about.” He reached for the whiskey, but somehow, Nathaniel had gotten there first, again, and was pouring his own glass, and taking his own damn time about it.
“No. True love doesn’t make you loose your wits. It lets you find them.” He refilled Harry’s glass—in that same confounded leisurely fashion, and nowhere near far enough—but Harry couldn’t exactly snatch the decanter out of the man’s hand. Not here in London, where he was nice, steady, boring Harry.
“I don’t know what came over me.” Harry stared into his glass. “It’s not like I’m some schoolboy. I was only even at that ball because of Fi. But when I saw Agnes she seemed . . . perfect.”
Nathaniel shrugged. “There’s marriage in the air. When a man like Philip Montcalm finally takes to it, the rest of us bachelors start looking about and saying ‘Perhaps it’s time.’” Nathaniel spoke the name of their mutual friend, and the man who had, until recently, been known about town as “the Lord of the Rakes.” “The next thing you know, you see some young lovely who’s everything you’ve been told to want, and that’s that.”
Was Nathaniel right? Had Harry wanted Agnes just because she’d seemed perfect? The idea left him with a very bad taste in his mouth and Harry took another swallow of whiskey to wash it away. What if the real problem was that he hadn’t remembered, or hadn’t bothered, to look beyond appearances?
No. That couldn’t possibly be what had happened.
Harry felt his eyes narrow. “Don’t tell me you ever fell for some little English rose . . .”
“All right, I won’t tell you. Point is, Harry, you’re no more a fool than thousands of others.” Nathaniel paused and eyed Harry over the rim of his glass. “Unless there’s something else behind all this?”
“Because to some of your friends, it looked like the whole thing proceeded in a tremendous hurry, especially for someone who always talked about how love should be the lifeline of the heart . . .”
“I said there’s nothing behind it.” Nothing at all, he repeated to himself. Then he had to tell himself it was just the whiskey making that feel like a lie. “I thought I fell in love and I thought she did, too. Apparently I was wrong, but as you say, I was no more wrong than thousands of others.”
“If that’s really it then, finish your drink, be thankful for a narrow escape, and next time find someone who wants Harry Rayburn, not Lord Byron or Dick Turpin.”
“They should advertise,” said Harry. “Or wear signboards. ‘Maiden seeks dashing highwaymen, no plodders need apply.’”
Nathaniel chuckled. “I think the chaperones might prefer it. Maybe the matchmaking mamas could post the notices over those little chairs where the candidates sit.”
“Women!” sneered Harry, lifting his glass high.
“Women!” echoed the entire room.
Dear Mrs. Wakefield:
I am writing to request the favor of a private interview, tomorrow. There is a matter that has long been on my mind to discuss with you. As it intimately concerns the future security and well-being of yourself and those to whom you are most nearly connected, I am certain you will find the proposal acceptable.
I intend to call at four o’clock. I trust I will find you at home.
Leannah Morehouse Wakefield laid the letter down on the desk. Had there ever, she wondered, been a declaration of intent less calculated to rouse tender sentiment in a maiden’s bosom?
Not that Leannah could be considered a maiden by any stretch of the imagination—especially once her five years of marriage and another year of widowhood had been taken into account. Neither did she harbor any idea of romance ever playing a part of her life. Still, it would have been nice if Terrance had made some small effort to sound more like a suitor and less like a solicitor.
This unfortunate thought brought with it the equally unfortunate image of Mr. Valloy seated behind his vast desk and handing across a marriage license tied in red ribbon. Everything’s quite in order. You just say, “I will,” and the matter’s settled. You will? Excellent.
Leannah’s late husband had been far older than she, but he had done his level best to be good to her. Still, there had been a point when she hoped any second marriage might be more compatible, perhaps even more passionate. In her private heart, she longed for a union where she was not seen as a girl to be indulged, cosseted, and, not to put too fine a point on it, bred. She had thought, perhaps, that if there was to be a next time, it might be with someone who knew the ways in which she longed to be touched and who understood how to ease the deep ache that came when she was alone.
Now I’m just being ridiculous. Leannah made herself look again at the ledger where she’d been entering the household accounts. Romance is for those who can afford it. Terrance will make a civil, amiable, and steady husband. That is what I need.
What we need. Leannah closed the ledger so she would not have to see all the red ink she’d entered just this evening. She’d let the fire burn down to its last coals and was working by lamplight with two shawls over her shoulders and her thickest stockings and slippers on her feet. Although it was finally April, the weather had yet to turn warm. She yearned to go up to bed and burrow under her quilts, but Genevieve hadn’t returned yet. Leannah wouldn’t be able to sleep a wink until she was sure her sister was safely home.
But she had finished the accounts, and she felt too tired to read. That meant the only thing left was to answer Mr. Valloy’s note, and assure him she would be at home when he arrived at four tomorrow.
Today, she reminded herself. She glanced at the clock. It was almost two.
“Leannah?” A man’s anxious voice reverberated through the study door. “Leannah?”
Oh, no. Leannah rose at once and hurried out into the cold, dark hallway.
Octavian Morehouse Leannah’s father, stood on the stairway landing. His dressing gown hung open over his nightshirt, and his thick gray hair stood wildly on end. He swayed on his bare feet, looking about him like a child who had lost his way.
“I’m here, Father.” Leannah hurried up the stairs to grasp his hands. “I’m right here.”
It took his pale green eyes a moment to focus on her. “I couldn’t sleep,” he said. “I thought they were looking for me again and . . .”
“Shhh.” Leannah patted his hands, appalled to feel how cold they were. “It’s all right now. There’s no one here but us.”
“Leannah?” A new voice drifted down from overhead. “Is something wrong?”
This time it was Jeremy, the youngest of the Morehouse siblings, leaning over the upstairs railing and rubbing hard at his eyes with the heel of one hand.
“No, nothing’s wrong.” Young boys were supposed to sleep deeply, but her brother never had. This, combined with a youth’s unerring instinct to head straight for wherever the most trouble might be, made it impossible to protect him from scenes such as this. “You can go back to bed, Jeremy. Father, come into the study. You’ll catch cold out here.”
“I’m sorry,” Father murmured as he let her lead him down the stairs. He hadn’t brought so much as a candle with him. Given the way his hands shook, however, that was probably for the best.
Leannah sat him on the end of the sofa closest the hearth and set about building up the fire.
“There now, that’s better.” She tried to sound cheerful as the fresh flames sprang up, but the collier’s bill was on the desk along with all the others. “You take a moment to warm yourself.”
Father stretched his trembling hands out to the fire, rubbing them over and over as if trying to clean off some stain. Leannah looked away. She didn’t want him to see her expression just then.
When she’d been a girl, Leannah’s father had seemed a giant of a man. He could carry her and Genevieve together—one on either shoulder. She’d loved his booming laugh, and the way everything around him was always the best, the finest, the grandest. The Morehouses were the flower of England, his daughters the fairest and the finest girls. When Jeremy arrived, Father held the infant up high, declaring before the entire neighborhood that his son was the brightest of boys and his future was limitless.
But that was all long ago. Father’s collapse had left him a bent and haggard old man whose spotted skin hung loosely off his bones. He looked lost in his own dressing gown. Leannah suddenly hated the worn, forest green garment. She should buy him a new one. And a new nightshirt. He shouldn’t have to wear those old, flapping things.
She looked down at her own frayed sleeves and tugged them over her wrists.
“Are the curtains closed?” asked Father.
“Yes, Father. Closed tight. Try not to make yourself anxious.”
“I don’t want to be seen. I don’t want to hurt anyone. You won’t let me hurt you anymore?”
“No, Father. You cannot hurt us.”
“But I can. You don’t know. I keep reading the papers. I see the numbers and the reports of the markets. I keep thinking if only I had a little money, I could do so much for us. I start thinking how to get it, and it all begins again, all the schemes and the plans.”
“I won’t let anything happen, Father.” At the same time, she thought irritably: Who let you have the newspapers? I’ll have to speak to Bishop about it.
The problem was, Bishop had so much else to do. He was the man of all work, and their only servant now besides Mrs. Falwell. Father needed a real nurse who could watch over him properly and be there when he got anxious like this.
Leannah tugged on her frayed sleeves again. And this is exactly why I have to make up my mind to say yes to Terrance Valloy.
“Close the drapes, Leannah. Please,” whispered Father.
She moved behind him and gripped the puce curtains—a horrid color but they’d come with the furnished house—and rattled the rings. “There, Father,” she said. “It’s done. Please try to rest.”
“You’re a good girl,” he said. “I wanted to be a good father, but I failed in that as well.”
Leannah’s head was aching. She had to distract him. If he fell into one of his brown studies, there’d be no sleep for anyone tonight. She tried to be gentle, to be forbearing, but sometimes it all felt impossibly hard, especially when there was so much else to do just to keep the house running and looking after Jeremy and Genevieve.
“I thought we might go driving tomorrow,” Leannah said. Never mind that she’d just spent the last half hour trying to decide whether it would be best to finally sell the team and the barouche, or if they could cut expenses far enough by just selling the saddle horse, Bonaparte. “I think we all deserve an outing, don’t you?”
“I’d like to see you drive,” he said. “Do you remember the Lady Day races back home? I was always so proud of you.”
No one’s going to beat a Morehouse at a race. You get right back up there. Leannah bowed her head. As a child, she hadn’t minded how much time Father had made her spend learning to handle a team. She’d basked in his pride, and driving fast always felt like flying, like freedom. Even now, when she knew all about the cost of the lessons, the horses, and the carriages, and when she understood all of that money had been thrown away on the exercise of pure pride, she still missed it.
“Well, that’s settled,” she said. “If the weather holds, we’ll all go out. The snowdrops are blooming in the park, and Gossip and Rumor certainly need the exercise.” I can put the stables off for another week. When Father’s calmer, I’ll be able to talk to him sensibly. If we sell the team, we can sell the carriage, too, and keep Bonaparte for Jeremy, and maybe me . . .
“Where’s Genevieve?” asked Father suddenly. “She shouldn’t be out so late.”
“Genevieve’s at the Fosters’ charity concert, Father. I told you about it.” Genevieve had been glad to go, too, even though she hated charity evenings, and even though Leannah had insisted she take Mrs. Falwell with her as an extra chaperone.
“Oh, yes, that’s right, you did.” Father patted the chair arm restlessly. “Well. She’ll be home soon then.”
“Yes.” Leannah glanced at the clock. In fact, Genevieve should already be home. Worry stirred in her. She pushed it aside. Probably her sister was lingering with friends over punch and ices. After a solid two weeks at home, Genny deserved an evening out. Especially now that she’d given up pestering everybody about Mr. Dickenson. Genevieve was a good girl, but she had all the Morehouse stubbornness. Well, Leannah’s position regarding Mr. Dickenson had been made quite plain, and that whim was finished. Now Genevieve would be able to meet a man who would want her for the right reasons. Perhaps a political man. That would suit Genny very well. But in any case, he must be a man with whom she could be herself.
Not that I’ve provided her the best example on that score. Leannah very deliberately did not glance back at the desk, and the letter from Mr. Valloy.
“Would you like me to read to you, Father?” she asked. “Or would you rather just sit quietly?”
Father looked up at her, and after what seemed like great effort, he managed a smile. “I think I’ll just be quiet a bit now, Leannah. I’m feeling much better already. You get on with your work.”
Leannah drew a deep breath. She needed to tell him how matters stood between her and Mr. Valloy. She’d put that off for far too long, and she really didn’t want it to come as any kind of a shock when Terrance asked to speak to him tomorrow. She needed him to understand the matter was settled and entirely for the best.
But before she could find the words, Leannah heard the soft but distinct sound of floorboards creaking outside the door.
“There, that’s Genevieve now,” she told him instead. If it’s not Jeremy creeping down to eavesdrop. But then, Jeremy knew precisely which of the rented house’s boards creaked by now. Come to that, so did Genevieve. “I’ll just go bring her in, and you can say good night.”
Leannah took up the lamp and went back out into the hall. She was just in time to see an aging woman dressed all in black put her foot on the first stair.
“Mrs. Falwell!” cried Leannah, and Mrs. Falwell spun around. She clapped her hand against her mouth and her watery eyes grew wide. “Where’s Genevieve!”
But Leannah needed no answer. Mrs. Falwell’s shock told her everything. Genny was gone, with Mr. Anthony Dickenson. She hadn’t given up on her whim after all.
Genevieve was on her way to Gretna Green.
The problem, Harry reflected with bleary irritability as he stumped down the stairs of the club, was that he’d never gotten comfortable with her. He’d never been able to look at her without feeling like a bumbling schoolboy, or too big for the room, or both. A man couldn’t be expected to charm the slippers off a girl when he was afraid of tripping over her.
How on earth did she manage it? Was it her eyes? The way she tipped her head and hid her pretty pink mouth behind her fan? Perhaps it was the sheer delicacy of her. That must be it. Harry wasn’t used to delicate girls. Life at sea and on the docks did not accustom a man to the company of girls reared in the hothouse environments of the parlor and the ballroom. His sister’s delicacy was mere physiological accident. The women he’d known in Madrid, Ceylon, and Constantinople were exotic, beautiful, intoxicating, but they were not delicate.
Delicacy was Agnes’s primary characteristic. She’d been so timid, so in need of protection from everything bigger than her Maltese. She always declared herself in need of his arm, or of having this errand run, or that item fetched. She’d smiled so prettily when she thanked him that he’d always been glad to do whatever little thing she asked, and her laugh had gone straight to his head. Yes, he’d felt every inch the raw merchantman when around her, but at the same time, he’d fought for a chance to show her he was far more of a man than the dandies and puppies who sighed after her.
Harry started down the street, keeping to the walks to avoid the traffic. He wasn’t drunk, exactly. Certainly not as drunk as he would have been if Nathaniel hadn’t cajoled him into eating a decent supper and washing it down with strong coffee. Or if the whiskey decanter hadn’t at some point been replaced by a bottle of wine. But he wasn’t completely sober, either. No sense in ending this disastrous evening by stumbling in front of a carriage. Agnes might find it terribly romantic if her rejection culminated in his early, ugly death, but Mother would never forgive him.
The clock had struck two sometime back, and the stream of passing carriages had thinned down considerably. That just meant the ones that were still out rattled by too damn fast. In fact, he could hear the distinct rumble of some fool somewhere nearby driving his team too damn hard.
He’d been so full of plans. He’d pictured Agnes as the jewel of his home, and mother to a brood of beautiful children, the perfect blend of Featherington and Rayburn. He hadn’t let himself dwell too much on the prospect of how those children were going to come into the world. It felt . . . indecent to be having carnal thoughts about such a young and frail creature. At the same time, he dreamed of teaching her to sail, of seeing her on the deck of a ship with all that golden hair being whipped by the wind. She loved Byron? Well, he’d take her to Greece, and to the Turkish coast, and a thousand other places; dress her in silk from China, rubies from India, feast her on tea and spices from all the islands. He’d show her the world.
Even now he could see Agnes standing on the deck of a ship, the wind blowing back her yellow hair. Harry blinked at the image, and leaned in, as if trying to take a closer look. Before when he’d conjured this vision, she’d always clung to his arm and laughed. Now, she clung to his arm all right, but she was bending over the rail being terribly ill.
Come to think of it, he’d never seen Agnes do anything more vigorous than walk through the panorama exhibit in Vauxhall Gardens. Even then, she hadn’t wanted to stay because it made Percival the Maltese nervous. Harry had felt very gallant escorting her away. He had, hadn’t he? Or had he just felt clumsy and bumbling for not having realized the grand scene was likely to be too much for Agnes?
What is that idiot doing to those horses? Harry looked up and down the empty street. The fool must be drunker than me. Maybe he was trying to outrun his own broken heart. Well, if he wasn’t careful he’d break the horses and the carriage and probably his neck, and serve him right.
Harry stepped into the street. He needed to get out of town himself. Go to Carlisle, maybe, or Barcelona, or Athens. It didn’t matter much, as long as it was somewhere he wouldn’t need quite so much whiskey to wash away the memory of Agnes Featherington.
Not Calais, though. Calais would be a very bad idea.
Harry scrubbed at his face and looked up at the soot-dimmed London moon. He cursed, slowly and thoroughly, in four different languages.
“Why?” he demanded. “What the hell is the matter with me?”
The moon didn’t answer. Instead, a woman’s voice erupted from the darkness.
“Out of the way!”
The thunder of hooves, the crack of a whip, and the bang, crash, and rattle of a carriage being driven at neck-or-nothing speed—it all toppled over Harry’s miasma of heartbreak and whiskey. He whipped around just in time to see the horses bearing down on him. The team reared, and Harry stumbled back. Wind, and the edge of one flashing hoof, knocked his hat away. The woman screamed something and the horses whinnied high and sharp in outraged answer. They crashed down hard enough that their iron shoes struck sparks from the cobbles and lurched forward.
Runaway. Runaway team, with a woman on the box.
That was Harry’s last clear thought. Because what he did next happened too fast for thought to keep up.
Harry jumped again, forward this time. His hands slapped against the carriage’s stanchions and closed down, which was good, because he was instantly yanked off his feet.
I’m going to die.
But his scrabbling boot found the running board, and the absolute, overwhelming desire not to die gave Harry enough strength to heave himself over the edge of the open carriage’s door and topple onto the seats. He bounced.
The team bolted around a corner. The carriage tipped up onto two wheels, and the woman cried out. Harry flailed about, but this time he failed to catch hold of anything and tumbled onto hands and knees. The wheels crashed down. The jolt slammed Harry’s teeth together and he barely missed biting his tongue.
Harry forced himself up onto his knees and grabbed the edge of the seat in front of him. The carriage—an open-topped barouche—pitched and rolled like a ship in a storm. The woman on the box had somehow kept her seat as the panicked horses tore blindly ahead. They took another sharp corner and again the carriage tipped, but this time Harry braced himself and kept his place. If he’d still had his hat, though, he would have lost it against the corner of the stone house. Again they righted, and again the horses took on a fresh burst of speed, straight down the middle of the high street. Carriages, curricles, vans rose up around them. The woman shouted and she screamed, and she still kept her seat as they threaded the needle between the slower traffic again.
Harry found his balance, and his wits. He crawled up onto the seat and clung to its back right behind the driver’s box. The carriage banked, going up onto its two wheels again. Again he braced himself. They were going to die. The carriage couldn’t stand this, and the horses certainly couldn’t. One of them would stumble. The carriage would overturn. They’d lose a pin on the wheel or break an axle. He was going to watch this woman thrown to the stones, to break her head and neck. As it was, the strain of holding the reins had bent her nearly double. God, what nerve she must have to even keep a hand on them at all. Probably saved them both doing it. He’d remember to thank her, after he got the carriage stopped.
Wind whistled past his ears. The traffic had cleared out. Moonlight and lantern light flashed just bright enough for him to make out the empty, macadamized road before them. They’d reached the highway, probably the Great North Road. Harry breathed a prayer of thanks. Not only would it be near empty this time of night, it was also smoother, so there was less chance of a horse breaking a leg or the carriage breaking a wheel than on cobbles.
Unfortunately, the horses also felt the change in the road under their hooves, and put on a fresh burst of speed.
Harry gritted his teeth, and didn’t let himself think about what he was doing. With the carriage rocking at breakneck speed, the horses straining against rein, bit, and bridle, he clambered over the carriage seat trying to get to the driver’s box. His hand slipped and his elbow buckled and he was staring at the rushing pavement, but he caught the edge of the box again, and pulled and swung himself around just so, and he was up beside the woman.
He slapped his hands down over hers; had just enough time to realize she wasn’t wearing gloves and that they were skin to skin, before he pulled back hard.
“What are you doing?” she cried.
“Let go!” he shouted. “I’ve got them! They’re slowing!”
“I don’t want them slowed, you idiot!”
The butt of her whip caught him in the guts. The blow—aided by sheer and complete shock—toppled Harry backward, onto the seat, and then onto the boards.
“Get up! Get up, there!” The woman cracked the whip over the team’s head. The horses charged forward.
Harry pushed himself to his knees again. Outrage cleared the last of the fog from his eyes. It also let him see the situation. The woman—bent low, lashing the space between her horses’ ears—was not panicked. She was not trying to hold on to runaways. She was driving at the absolute limit of the horses’ speed and the carriage’s endurance.
“Stop!” Harry shouted.
“No!” she shouted back. “Sorry!” she added.
“You’ll crash us!”
Did he actually hear pride in her voice?
I’m being abducted, Harry thought as he pushed himself back into a sitting position. By a madwoman.
Except she wasn’t a madwoman. She was handling the team like she’d been born on the box. She’d been in control that whole time they’d threaded the streets of London, and Westminster, and taken those daring, near deadly turns. Dear God, what kind of woman was she?
At this, absurdly, Harry laughed. Maybe it was the remainder of the whiskey burning through his blood, maybe it was just speed and danger addling his wits. But it occurred to him that he’d been wishing he could get out of town. Now he was doing exactly that, and at top speed. Admittedly, he hadn’t considered abduction as a means of gaining distance from Agnes, but here he was, and there didn’t seem to be anything he could do about it. Not unless he wanted to risk climbing back onto the box and trying to wrestle the ribbons away from his surprisingly strong and well-armed lady abductor. Abductress?
Harry laughed again. He clambered carefully onto the seat, gripped the rail, and settled back to see where this madwoman would take them both.
If Leannah had been able to spare a thought from driving, she might have used it to wonder how the night could possibly get worse. As it was, she needed every ounce of concentration, and all her strength, to keep Rumor and Gossip from overturning the carriage. The two mares were having the time of their high-strung lives. Their necks strained forward, and their ears pressed flat against their skulls. Gossip fought to get the bit between her teeth, and Rumor was picking up on the idea, making the reins twice as tricky to hold. They could feel her hands were tiring and her grip was weakening, and both were trying their best to try to outrun the annoying, rattling contraption they’d been harnessed to, again.
And now there was a man in the barouche. How’d he even gotten there? Had he actually managed to jump aboard? Leannah found herself impressed, although very much against her will. Such a feat made him either a hero or a lunatic, but she had no leisure to work out which it could be. They were coming up on the crossroads and the signposts, and the straight, white ribbon of the Great North Road. Leannah pulled on the reins, but the team resisted. She cracked the whip over Rumor’s ear, catching the mare’s attention and turning her head. She saw the open way now, and the chance to really run. The team swerved sharply to the right. Leannah had just enough strength left to rein them in and prevent the barouche from tipping up on two wheels yet again. She should slow them. She was risking the team, the carriage, her own neck, not to mention the neck of whoever it was riding behind her. But if she slowed too far, she’d never catch up with Genevieve and then . . . then . . .
The barouche jounced over a pothole, landing hard in a noise of straining axles and springs. Her last pin fell away and her hair tumbled in a great, heavy mass down her back. Wind stung Leannah’s ears and cheeks and set her eyes watering. It caught in her hair, flinging it backward.
Leannah thought she heard a sound from her unwelcome passenger. It sounded almost like a laugh.
Is he a madman? Or simply drunk?
She’d just have to hope he wasn’t drunk enough to do something even more stupid than try to take the reins—like jump out and break his neck in a ditch, because she didn’t have time to go back for him. She had to catch up with Genevieve. She had to stop her sister from making the worst mistake of her life.
She should have known something was brewing. She should have smelled it in the way Genny hadn’t made any trouble for the past two days. She hadn’t complained at all about hearing Jeremy’s lessons and had even taken him to the circulating library and the park. Leannah had let herself believe that, for once, someone in their family had come to her senses before a disaster rather than long afterward.
She should have known better. She should have listened when her friend Meredith Langley warned her that something might be in the wind. But with Father doing poorly and Jeremy at home, there had been so much to do that she hadn’t been watching Genny as carefully as she should have. That, and she’d so wanted to believe everything would be all right.
They were well past the city walls now, in the land of scattered cottages and open fields where the city folk would retreat or retire when they’d earned enough. Clouds scudded thickly across the moon and the stinging wind that rushed through her hair brought the smell of rain. Smooth macadam shone in the carriage’s lantern light. There were no other lanterns on the road ahead. They had the way to themselves, and at least two miles to the tollgate. Leannah eased up on the reins just a little. If the team wanted to run now, let them run.
She wished she could enjoy the ride. It had been years since she’d driven like this. She’d pull them back in a few minutes, when she could be sure she really had gained on Genevieve, and that lecherous scoundrel Anthony Dickenson. She’d allow them just one more minute of speed, of flying free. This would be the last time, after all, before she had to sell them both. Before she had to take up her life with Mr. Valloy so she didn’t have to sell anything else.
But that wasn’t yet. Now there was the rush of the wind and the tension of the ribbons in her hands, and the giddy speed of driving, and no one to see or know or care that she was a woman driving herself.
No one, of course, except her passenger. Well, she’d dealt with everything up to now. She’d deal with him when she had to. But for just another minute, she and her team would run. Just one minute more . . .
The black, animal shape flashed across the white road. Gossip reared up, pulling Rumor with her. This time Leannah’s hands did slip. Both horses came down short and hard, and she heard the ring as the shoe skittered free across the macadam. Gossip whinnied and the team stumbled to a halt.
Leannah jumped down from the box and ran around to Gossip’s flank. Both horses were blowing hard and working their bits. The sweat on their necks gleamed in the lantern light. Gossip pawed the ground, but showed no sign of pain.
But the shoe was gone. She’d heard it go. Had she wondered how things could get worse? They just had.
“Are you all right?” asked a deep voice behind her.
Leannah turned to face the man she had inadvertently abducted, and her breath caught in her throat.
She’d abducted a positive Adonis—a disheveled and thoroughly wind-blown Adonis to be sure, with some rather overdone sideburns, but he carried it magnificently. He was tall enough to look down on her, something Leannah seldom encountered. The moon came out briefly to mix with the lantern light and show him to be fair-haired, with dark brows and a square chin that would send any lady novelist into raptures. His shoulders were broad and the arms beneath his coat were well shaped. She remembered the strength of his hands as they clamped down over hers and hauled back on the ribbons, hard but evenly, to try to slow the team.
She’d yelled at him, and kidnapped him. Did she remember hitting him? Leannah knuckled her eyes. If it wasn’t for Genevieve, it all might have been funny.
But there was Genny, now well on her way to Gretna Green, and they’d never catch her. Stupid, irresponsible child.
“Are you all right?” the stranger asked again.
“No. Yes. Oh. I’m so sorry, Mr. . . . Mr. . . . Oh, God, what a mess!” Leannah whirled away from him to face the highway, straining eyes and ears for some hint of a carriage. All the exhilaration of the drive and the thrill of her borrowed freedom were gone. “I’m going to murder that girl!” I’m going to kill myself if Gossip is lamed, and how are we ever going to be able to afford the farrier’s bill and what if I don’t catch Genevieve . . . ?
Tears of anger and fear streamed down Leannah’s cheeks. She wiped at them and the salt stung her raw palms. Two strong hands gripped her shoulders from behind. They didn’t exactly shake her, but they did turn her irresistibly to face her disheveled Adonis. Leannah gulped air. She couldn’t breathe. She could barely think. The man said nothing. He just held her still long enough for her to see that his eyes were set deep above sharp cheekbones, and that those eyes were kind, as well as sane and sober. His hands curled around her shoulders and she was highly conscious of their warmth seeping through her thin sleeves. He was not only strong, he understood how to control that strength. She was no one’s fragile blossom, but if she struggled against him now, she wasn’t sure she’d be able to break this grip.
Why am I even thinking of that?
She slowly became aware that the man was breathing in a deliberate fashion—one deep, slow breath in, and then one just as slow and just as deep out again. The rhythm of it was oddly steadying, and allowed Leannah to breathe more normally herself. A flush of warmth and embarrassment crept up her throat, because as her breathing steadied, Leannah also became aware she’d been behaving like an hysteric.
“Are you all right?” Adonis asked, his voice quite calm. “Can you tell me what’s happening?”
“My sister.” Leannah took a deep breath and another and reined in her thoughts as firmly as she would a mettlesome team. She felt she should lie, or at least evade the question. This man, with his strong hands and magnificent eyes, was completely unknown to her. He might be anybody at all. He might be trouble.
He is trouble, whispered a voice from deep inside her, because he hadn’t let go of her yet, and she hadn’t pulled away, which she should do. She should also lie.
But she didn’t do that either. “My younger sister’s run off to Gretna Green with a man named Anthony Dickenson.” Condescending, priggish, Anthony Dickenson, who spent half their conversations subtly reminding her that he was the one with money and that she should be grateful he even consented to be seen with Genevieve. “I thought I might be able to catch up with them, but now that’s gone and she’s out there alone with him and . . . Oh, the little IDIOT!”
All her hard-won calm shattered and Leannah clapped her hands to her face. She was shaking and the tears had started all over again. This was a scene, she realized dimly. She was making a pitiful, pointless scene, but she couldn’t stop herself. She had worked so hard and so long to keep the family together; to give Genny and Jeremy a chance at some kind of life, and now her sister did . . . this . . .
Leannah felt herself being pulled forward. Sweet warmth enveloped her as the man wrapped his arms around her. He held her gently. She could step back at any time. But she didn’t want to. She pressed her face against his shoulder and let him—this perfect stranger—hold her. He was once more breathing slowly and evenly, and she had the very keen sense of him controlling himself. It was grossly indecent to be out here in the dark of the highway in a stranger’s embrace. Leannah found she did not care. Her palm rested against the hard plain of his chest. The worsted cloth stung her ungloved hand badly, but she didn’t care about that either. She wanted to stay here just as she was. She wanted to relax her body against his, to tilt her face up, to look into his eyes, and then . . . and then . . .
Slowly, painfully, her hand curled into a fist where it rested against the man’s chest. No. I must stop this at once. I cannot be the thoughtless one. I do not have time.
At least she had stopped crying. She had also regained enough control over her limbs to step away. Her stranger let her go, as she had known he would. But he was breathing fast now, and his face was entirely flushed. He also was looking down the road rather than at her.
“What kind of start does your sister have?” he asked.
“An hour, maybe two.” She’d have been on the road much sooner if she hadn’t had to deal with all Mrs. Falwell’s stammering evasions. Then there’d been all the delay of getting to the stables, and convincing the manager that this really was an emergency, not just an attempt to get the horses away without paying the bill, not to mention getting the horses brought out and harnessed.
Her—passenger? victim? Leannah had no idea what to call the man—unhooked the right-hand carriage lantern and held it up to peer into the darkness. He was still breathing far too quickly for a man who’d done nothing but stand still for the last few moments.
He’s also putting distance between us, murmured that treacherous, trivial part of her, the same part that had let her be held by this stranger. He doesn’t trust himself.
She had to think clearly. She could not, however much she wanted to, fall to pieces again, or waste time yearning after things she could not have, like another moment in this man’s arms. Leannah made herself look past his back, a feat almost as difficult as stepping out of his arms had been. The highway was empty. The silent countryside spread out black and gray in the last shreds of moonlight still able to find a path through the gathering clouds.
“There’s still every chance,” he said. “It’s a dark night, and we’re on the edge of rain. It’s some three hundred miles to the border. They’ll have to stop somewhere. If nothing else, they’ll need to change horses frequently if they’re to go at any kind of speed. We can ask at the gatehouse if they’ve been seen. We might even find them at the inn there.”
She couldn’t help noticing the way he said “we.” Leannah opened her mouth to tell him she could manage very well, thank you, but at the last moment decided against it. She might not want him here, but here he was and she could hardly abandon him by the roadside, even if Gossip hadn’t thrown her shoe. If he could be useful, she shouldn’t discard his help out of hand.
“You’re right. I’m sorry, Mr. . . . ?”
“Harry Rayburn.” He performed a credible bow. “At your service, I suppose, Miss . . . ? Or is it Lady?”
“Missus,” she answered. “Mrs. Wakefield.”
“Mrs. Wakefield.” The surprise and disappointment in his voice were positively flattering. Leannah wished she had time to enjoy them. The trained reflexes of courtesy made her hold out her hand. That, however, proved to be a mistake. When he took her hand so that he might bow over it, she winced. Mr. Rayburn, who could apparently number quick observation among his fine qualities, turned her hand over. The lantern light showed harsh lines along her palms where the leather reins had bitten into her skin. A dark smear of blood spread across her skin. Leannah pulled her hand away and hid it in her skirt.
“Is she all right?” Leannah nodded toward Gossip. Of course she’d check for herself, but for reasons she could not quite understand, she did not want Mr. Rayburn to be looking at her just now. The rush of the drive and the distraction of Harry Rayburn’s touch were fading, and the pain had begun to creep up past her wrists, into her arms. It would be bad later, but she couldn’t worry about that either.
Mr. Rayburn quirked a brow at her, as if to let her know he understood this was meant as a distraction. Nonetheless, he did move carefully around Gossip, who stamped and whickered at him. He patted her shoulder, murmuring soothing nothings as he ran his hand slowly down her leg. Whatever his station in life, Mr. Rayburn was a patient man, and one who understood horses. Probably she’d gotten hold of some Newmarket dandy, or member of the sporting set who would be all too delighted to regale his comrades about his midnight ride, probably expanded and improved upon to tell how he’d stopped the runaway team and saved a damsel in distress.
Then she remembered his rough hands with their controlled and well-judged grip. Those were not a dandy’s hands at all.
“I think she’s all right,” Mr. Rayburn said as he straightened up. “I can’t find any swelling or tenderness. Just lost the shoe.”
She nodded. Despair threatened again, but she pushed it aside, hard. “We’re about two miles from the tollgate, I think. It makes more sense to head there than try to turn back to town.”
“I agree.” He raised the lantern a little higher and met her gaze. “There’s still every chance we can catch up with your sister. If this fellow she’s with is in a great rush, he’s just barreled up the high road, and we’ll get word of them at the inn. If he decided to be evasive and take the side roads, we will be ahead of them.”
Unless Gretna wasn’t their destination after all. Unless there was no marriage planned. Leannah couldn’t believe that of Genevieve, despite her radical, bluestocking views. But what of Anthony Dickenson?
Leannah drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. It would do no one any good to say so much now. “We should be on our way at once.”
He nodded briskly. “I think this one . . .”
“Gossip,” she told him. “Gossip and Rumor.”
He cocked his eye at her again. She shrugged. “They’re the fastest things in the world.”
That earned a startled chuckle, and despite everything, Leannah felt herself smile. “Gossip here will walk, if we take it easy. I’ll lead,” he added before Leannah had any chance to protest.
She shivered. “All things considered, you’d be within your rights to leave me here.”
He didn’t answer that, at least not directly. “Have you a shawl or any such?”
He’d seen her shiver. He was too observant by half, this Mr. Rayburn. She was going to have to be very careful around him, or she’d give something important away.
“I left home in rather a hurry.” Without gloves or a hat or . . . oh, no, without any money. She’d been so intent on catching up with Genevieve before the worst happened that she hadn’t even paused to consider such things. Leannah shuddered again.
“Here.” Mr. Rayburn stripped off the caped overcoat he wore. “Take this.”
“You’ll be cold.”
“Not as cold as you’ll be up there. Come now. You’ve wounded my pride by abducting me, you can at least permit me my chance to play the gallant.”
He settled the coat around her shoulders and she felt the barest brush of his fingertips against the bare skin of her throat. The coat smelled of whiskey, salt water, and, surprisingly, spices. A treacherous shiver trickled down her spine.
Oh, don’t, she whispered in the dark of her mind. I mustn’t be curious, or intrigued.
If Mr. Rayburn thought this latest, so very treasonous shiver might be anything more than cold, he was gentleman enough to remain silent. He held out his hand, and Leannah realized belatedly that he meant to help her back onto the box. She let him, noticing he took her arm, not her injured hand. His own arm was steady as a rock as she leaned on him. For a brief moment she imagined having those arms around her again, and she thought of how those hands would feel as they settled against her waist to pull her close, here in the dark, where no one could see, no one could know.
I should leave you here, Mr. Rayburn. Gossip could run a little way at least, if I gave her her head. I could leave you behind and let you walk back to town and away from me.
Excerpted from "The Accidental Abduction"
Copyright © 2014 Darcie Wilde.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
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.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for THE ACCIDENTAL ABDUCTION:
"A delicious twist on the familiar abduction plot...The depths of their desire and the intensity of their emotions are the highlights of their romance, which is complicated by suspicion from family and friends about their abrupt nuptials. This scintillating and multifaceted historical will leave readers eager for more." Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Praise for Darcie Wilde's previous novel Lord of the Rakes
“Wilde’s strong and spicy debut reveals the vulnerability of the Regency era’s women…The allure of their sensual encounters is enhanced by the great depth of emotions revealed by these expertly crafted and unforgettable characters.”—Publishers Weekly
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Accidental Abduction was a nice story, a bit slow paced with equally slow build up but its a story that can be read over a day while you're cuddled up on the couch. Leannah and Harry aren't quite right for eachother but they're thrown into a marriage so that she can save her sick family that she cares for. I can sympathize with someone that is thrown in crazy situations because of those same issues so I could relate to the stresses of what Leannah was going through and I liked the strength and the sexiness of Harry - who in no way resembles the male model on the cover (a guy that looks like he's sixteen same as the female model) but don't let it fool you, it is for adults. The love scenes aren't overly steamy and there isn't much excitement but its a nice easy paced read when you're having a lazy day.
This is the first time I read this author and I was not disappointed. The Lord of the Rakes and then The Accidental Abduction were both great. What made this a great read was the depth of both of the characters as well as the sub characters in the story. I can't wait to read the next book from this author!
Darcie Wilde's sophomore romance, The Accidental Abduction takes readers on a wild ride. There were some ups and downs in the pacing, and a few errors in the customs and proprieties of the day, but this was still an enjoyable read. It is about two characters that marry quickly and then find out that perhaps they don't know that much about each other. What results is a story about family, love and duty. Readers will find the love story a little disjointed but very enjoyable! Darcie Wilde's latest book, The Accidental Abduction is of course a historical romance. Being a history major, once upon a time, I tend to be a stickler when it comes to the book reflecting the research into the times and the customs of the day. Wilde did good in some areas, but suffered in others. When a couple wanted to get married in a hurry, whether it was because of pregnancy or they just didn't want to wait for their banns to be posted, they would often escape across the border into Scotland to be married. Wilde did a good job of describing the situation with Leannah's sister, Ginny and her need for going to Gretna Green. I liked the references to the practices of the day and thought Wilde was on track with that. However, she did use some language in this book that was not common in the day and there were other minor references to things I felt were out of place. Like I said, I'm a stickler and this sort of thing may not bother many readers. Leannah and Harry meet very unexpectedly when Leannah picks up a drunk Harry while she is trying to save her sister from marrying the wrong man. It was obvious that these two characters were attracted from the first moment, however their romance becomes quite a whirlwind. The beginning of the book starts out a bit slow and is hard to warm up to, but after the main characters meet, they beat a frantic pace to the altar. I found that bit disconcerting, though I realize that hasty marriages happen even today. It made the pacing seem a bit disjointed. It just didn't read smoothly. One of the things I did like about the story was the fact that everyone seemed so determined to under mind this marriage, yet they were unsuccessful. This is a story about two characters who have to learn about each other after the fact. It was a good concept and had a lot of potential. I liked that Wilde uses everything from family discord to villains to try to drive them apart and yet they survive. The couple was actually quite likable. I thought Leannah was self-sacrificing and Harry was devoted and willing to stand by her. Though the story does have it's problems it was still a good read and I think readers may be willing to overlook some of the issues because the characters are compelling. Beyond the Book: Marriage practices back in the day were very interesting and it's remarkable how many marriages took place in Gretna Green, Scotland. Take some time to do your own research into the topic and you'll be surprised at some of the other unique marriage rituals you might find. Bottom Line: I liked this book, despite the fact that it was a bit out of kilter. The pacing was off and there were a few discrepancies, but I loved the main couple and their story isn't unlike one that might happen today. Finding out your new husband can snore the roof off the house is the least of this couples worries. Wilde hasn't hit her stride yet, but she's headed in the right direction!
Just a few pages in and I was already enthralled by hero, Harry Raybourn and laughing at his escapades in love and his humorous way of trying to figure out the female race. In response to his oh so careful courtship of a wisp of a girl that was all wrong for him, he is luckily shot down for being too ordinary. Ordinary is exactly what Harry was going for- especially after what happened in Calais. Harry isn't dashing, he doesn't have blue aristocratic blood running through his veins, but he does have a zest for a spirited woman and the romp they have together. After a night of mourning the loss of his delicate beauty, Agnes Featherhead er, that is Featherington, he steps out of his club and right into an adventure. His attempt to save a damsel that he thought was in distress only earns him an accidental abduction by a Boudicca and her chariot. Leannah Wakefield is doing all she can for her family. Her father's weakness and need to speculate away all their money and anyone else's has left them near destitute and pariahs in society. Leannah is now a year widowed after a five year marriage and she has tried to cobble the family finances together long enough for her sister to make a good match and her brother to come of age, but they won't last a few more weeks let alone years before Jeremy comes of age. There is nothing for, but that she accept the hand of a man that gives her the shivers. On that thought, she discovers that Genevieve didn't give up on the attachment to Mr. Dickenson, but has run off. Leannah races out to rescue her sister and will put her carriage horses through the paces to do it. Somehow, along the way, she has acquired an unwelcome passenger. Is he a drunk or just crazy? Harry soon learns that Leannah is out to stop her sister from a disastrous runaway marriage. Leannah's spirited driving, determination and beauty work powerfully on him. He can see that his aid during her time of need and something about him has attracted her to him too. Not long after a successful if unorthodox completion of the adventure, it is Harry and Leannah that say their vows in a roadside inn. The passionate moments of coming together are the easy part now they must face their families, Leannah's Morehouse family reputation and Society. Oh, and some behind the scenes scheming. If they cannot rely on and trust in each other and what they have together, all the things against them will break them apart before they have the chance to express any growing, honest feelings for each other. As one can see by the description, this one was off to the races from the beginning in some ways. They came together quickly and passionately, but then the rest of the book was spent delving into their pasts, their characters and their romance's development. Harry and Leannah take the starring roles of course and this is there story, but there is a huge cast of characters flitting through this one and tantalizing mysterious references to a dark moment for Harry and a seedy past for Leannah's family. Slowly this is all teased out. There are also side jaunts for the villains to make their moves. I only had one niggle and it is probably a personal preference more than anything. I was not half pleased with all the page time devoted to both of them fantasizing. In general, I don't mind reading about a character fantasizing about what they will do or say with the other character, but I get bored when it carries on- and on. For the most part, this stuff ended about the time they got married so its not a huge portion of the book. This book is also loosely connected to another book, Lord of the Rakes, by the author though I found no evidence that they are considered a series. Because of the connection, I would suggest that they be treated like a series anyway. Lord of the Rakes features a romance between two friends of Harry's and his sister Fionna. Also, Harry, Fi and there family group with acquaintances were introduced in the other book. A word about the romance and the characters- it’s very spicy and these passionate people are honest in their need and unapologetic about the raw need. Things began fast, but in this case the author was able to carry the 'love (or lust) at first sight' plotting and it worked because of what came afterward. They aren't sweet or refined. Leannah and Harry are mannered people, but neither come from highborn backgrounds. Refreshingly, Harry's family is wealthy from trade and he still works. Leannah's family is untitled country gentry though her father's speculative habits have lost them even that. They have a tough uphill battle to prove they belong together and prove that Leannah isn't her father. I enjoyed the together against the world feel they had though it was sad to see when doubt reared its ugly head. It was realistic for it to do so and added that needed challenge to keep things from going stale. In the end, I was pleased with the result of this story. I enjoy the author's writing. She uses humor, lusty bedroom scenes, gritty intrigue and colorful characters to tell a good story. If Ms. Wilde is listening, I would love Nathaniel Penrose and Meredith Langley to get a story too. I would recommend this to those that enjoy moderate spice and intrigue in their Historical Romances. My thanks to Penguin Group for the opportunity to read this one in exchange for an honest review.