A marquess’s daughter, Lady Sophia Barnes doesn’t take no for an answer. Especially when she’s roaming London’s seedy underground…dressed as a man.
A rabble rouser for justice, Sophie’s latest mission is to fight for the rights of the poor, the wretched—and the employees at Madame Hartley’s brothel. She’s not concerned about the criminals who will cross her path, for Sophie has mastered the art of deception—including the art of wearing trousers. Now her fate is in her own hands, along with a loaded gun. All she needs is instruction on how to shoot it. But only one person can help her: Lord Quint, the man who broke her heart years ago. The man she won’t let destroy her again…
The last thing Damien Beecham, Viscount Quint, needs is an intrusion on his privacy, especially from the beautiful, exasperating woman he’s never stopped wanting. A woman with a perilously absurd request, no less! For Damien is fighting a battle of his own, one he wishes to keep hidden—along with his feelings for Lady Sophia. Yet that fight is as hopeless as stopping her outlandish plan. Soon all Quint knows for certain is that he will die trying to protect her…
About the Author
Carmen Rose is an award-winning, critically acclaimed British actress. She trained at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama and enjoys regular work as an audiobook narrator of romance and erotica.
Read an Excerpt
The Lady Hellion
By Joanna Shupe
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2015 Joanna Shupe
All rights reserved.
Padding the crotch of one's trousers required a surprising amount of skill. Too big of a bulge drew attention. Too small and you risked the thing slipping down your leg.
Fortunately, Lady Sophia Barnes had enough experience to achieve the perfect balance. No one looking at her now would believe her a lady of twenty-seven, the daughter of a wealthy and powerful marquess—not dressed as she was, in gentleman's finery from head to toe.
Just as no one would believe her spare time was spent investigating matters for a class of women most Londoners did not even want to think about.
The evening, though chilly and unpleasant, had been moderately productive. As Sophie approached the hackney, the driver jumped down to open the door. Her maid, Alice, sat inside, huddled under blankets. Alice waited until the door closed before she spoke. "Well, my lady?"
Sophie knocked on the roof to signal the driver. Then she pulled a folded paper out of the pocket of her greatcoat. "No trace of Natalia, but I did find this." Beth, the girl who'd hired Sophie, was worried that ill had befallen her friend. Though Beth had now found herself a protector, Natalia still worked in a tavern near the docks, where extra coins meant taking a customer to the second-floor rooms. The two girls corresponded every week without fail, and Natalia hadn't sent word for almost a month.
Tonight, Sophie had gained access to Natalia's room and searched it. The only letter she'd found was in Russian.
Sophie stretched her unencumbered legs in the small space as the carriage rumbled forth into the night. Breeches really were a spectacular invention. "I wish I knew what it said. Beth only speaks English."
"We'd need to find someone who can speak Russian, my lady."
A name came to mind. A name she tried not to think of more than five—or ten—times a day. She often failed even at that. "I do know someone who speaks Russian. Lord Quint. He gave a short lecture during a gathering at the Russian Embassy three years ago." Sophie had attended, standing in the rear of the room. She hadn't understood a word, but oh, he'd been glorious. Speaking on some recent scientific discovery, he'd commanded the attention of everyone present, even making the dour-faced Russians laugh at several points.
Alice clucked her tongue. "La, his lordship won't be speaking it for long, that's for certain."
"Whatever do you mean?"
Her sharp tone caught Alice's attention. "I thought your ladyship knew. He's near death's door, that one. I saw one of his lordship's kitchen maids three—no, maybe four days ago. Fever's set in. His lordship won't let any of the staff tend to him and won't allow a physician in."
Sophie's stomach plummeted through the carriage floor and onto the dirty Southwark streets. No doubt Alice told the truth. The maid's network of servants would put any foreign spy service to shame. Quint ... near death's door. Oh, God. She knew a bullet had grazed him that night at Maggie's house, right before the fire had swept in. But she'd assumed he'd recovered. Everyone had said the injury wasn't serious. Damn, if only she hadn't been so wrapped up in her own life—
Her fist banged the roof. The driver opened the small partition and Sophie barked in her low register, "Stop at the southwest corner of Berkeley Square instead." Quint lived just down the square from her father's town house so she would get out and let Alice continue on.
"What are you going to do, my lady?"
Was it not obvious? "I'm going to save him."
Alice gasped. "You cannot very well show up at his front door"—her hand waved at Sophie's attire—"dressed ike that."
"They'll not let a stranger inside to see him, even one dressed as a gent. And besides—"
"Do not even start lecturing me on propriety. We bid farewell to that ship eons ago, Alice. Not to worry, I'll manage a way into his house."
By the time she arrived at the servants' door of Quint's town house, Sophie had conjured a plausible story. A bleary-eyed older woman in a nightcap opened the door, a frown on her wrinkled face. "Yes?"
"I am here"—Sophie deepened her voice—"at the behest of His Grace the Duke of Colton to attend to his lordship."
The woman held up her light, looked Sophie up and down. "You're a surgeon?"
"A valet, though I do have extensive medical knowledge."
"From a duke, you say?"
Sophie lifted her chin. "Indeed. And I do not think His Grace would appreciate you leaving me on the stoop to freeze."
The woman stood aside to allow Sophie to enter. They went into the kitchens, where Sophie removed her hat and greatcoat. "Where may I find his lordship?"
"His chambers. Won't let anyone in, not even a doctor. Most of the staff's already left. Figure every one of us will be out on the street in a day or two."
Without another word, the woman turned and shuffled to the corridor. Must be his cook, Sophie thought, and followed. "Stairs," the woman mumbled, handed Sophie her lamp, and continued on.
A few wrong turns, but Sophie finally found the master apartments. Inside, the air was cold and stale, the fire left untended. Moonlight trickled in from the windows, enough to allow her to see a large shape, motionless, under the coverlet. Quint. Please God, let him be alive.
She rushed over, and then nearly gasped. Dear heavens. His condition was worse than she'd feared. His skin was waxen, his lips cracked and swollen. His eyes were closed, with blue-black smudges underneath them. She shot her hand out to feel the side of his throat not covered with a bandage. Though his skin burned to the touch, she exhaled in relief. A pulse. Weak, but there.
She set her light on the table beside him. "Oh, Damien," she whispered, unable to resist gently smoothing the damp hair off his fevered brow. "This is what you get for eschewing a valet, you stupid man."
A strangled, pained sound came out of his throat when she checked the wound. Now red and ugly, the hole oozed when she gently poked it. He made another noise and weakly tried to shift away. At least he'd shown signs of life. Striding to the bell pull, she began a mental list of all the items she required.
Had she arrived in time, or was it too late? Ignoring the worry in her gut, she vowed not to fail. He would not die.
"Hear that, Quint?" she said loudly. "You. Will. Not. Die."
After ten minutes and many tugs on the bell, a weary, rumpled footman finally arrived. He'd clearly been asleep, but she felt absolutely no sympathy for the servants. They'd abandoned their master, which, whether he'd asked for it or not, was unacceptable as far as she was concerned. And Quint deserved better.
"Rouse every servant. Tell the cook to boil hot water. I need fresh bed linens and clean towels. Bring every medical supply in the house. And send for a physician."
"No arguments. His lordship is near death and I mean to save him, so do what I say. Now, go!"CHAPTER 2
"You have a visitor, my lord."
Damien Beecham, Viscount Quint, did not bother looking up at his new butler, his attention instead focused on the rows of letters in front of him. He had to get this idea down. Now—before it was too late. "Pass on the usual response, Turner."
The butler cleared his throat. "I beg your lordship's pardon, but the name is Taylor."
Quint grimaced. He could hardly be faulted for forgetting the lad's name, could he? Taylor had only been on the job for a few days. Or was this further proof of Quint's worst fear becoming a reality?
Nearly three months since the shooting. Three months and he was no better. Oh, the wound had closed, the fever abated, yet everything else that followed had only worsened.
He exhaled and dipped his pen in the ink pot. The invocation he'd adopted these past weeks went through his head: Remain occupied. Engage your mind while you can. Prepare for the worst. He looked back down at his cipher. "Apologies, Taylor. No visitors. Ever. Until further notice, I am not receiving callers."
"She said your lordship might say no, and if so, I was to tell you her name—the Lady Sophia Barnes. I was also to mention she planned on coming in whether your lordship allowed it or not."
Quint felt himself frown. Sophie, here? Why? Displeasure was quickly replaced by an uncomfortable weight on his chest. He could not face anyone, most especially her. "No. Definitely not. Tell her—"
Before he finished his sentence, Sophie charged into the room. Smothering a curse, Quint threw down his pen, came to his feet, and snatched his topcoat off the chair back. He pulled on the garment as he bowed. "Lady Sophia."
He'd known her for years—five and three-quarters, to be precise—and each time he saw her, he experienced a jolt of heady awareness. There'd never been a more remarkably remarkable woman. She had short honey-brown hair that gleamed with hints of gold in the lamplight. Tall for a female, she had long, lean limbs that moved with purpose, with confidence. Her nose and upper cheeks were dusted with freckles that shifted when she laughed—which was often. People fell under the spell of that laugh, himself included.
"Lord Quint, thank you for seeing me." Holding her bonnet, she bobbed a curtsy in an attempt to give the impression of a proper young lady. No one who knew this particular daughter of a marquess would ever believe it, however. She and Julia Seaton, the Duchess of Colton, were close friends, and the two of them had landed in one absurd scrape after another over the years. Last he'd heard, the two had required rescuing from a gaming hell after a brawl erupted.
"As if I'd had a choice," he said dryly.
She laughed, not offended in the least, and Quint noticed Taylor, mouth agape, hovering near the threshold, eyes trained on Sophie. Good God. Not that Quint hadn't experienced the same reaction in Sophie's presence a time or two. "That'll be all, Taylor. Leave the door ajar, will you?"
The butler nodded and retreated, cracking the heavy door for propriety. Ridiculous, really, when the entire visit was already deuced improper. "I hope you at least brought a maid, Sophie."
"Of course I did. She's in the entryway, likely planning to flirt with that baby you call a butler." Her lips twisted into a familiar impish half-smile. Once, she had given him that smile, leaned into him, and parted her lips ... right before he'd kissed her.
The memory nearly distracted him from the fact that he didn't want anyone in the house. Bad enough he had to keep the staff. "I am not receiving callers," he told her. "And this is not going to help your reputation."
She waved her hand. "No one worries over a spinster nearing thirty years of age. Now, shall we sit?"
He happened to know she was only twenty-seven, but no use quibbling with her. He glanced about. Books, papers, and various mechanical parts littered every surface. Not to mention there were the three heavy medical volumes on his desk—all on mental deficiencies. With rapid flicks of his wrist, he closed each one and moved the stack to the floor behind his desk. He then came around and cleared a chair for Sophie.
"Thank you." She lowered gracefully into the seat and arranged herself, bonnet in her lap. "I apologize for barging in. Your butler did try to turn me away, but I haven't been able to locate you elsewhere. You've become something of a recluse."
Better to be a recluse than take a trip to an asylum. He sat in his desk chair and said, "I have been occupied."
A tawny eyebrow rose. "So occupied you missed the opening lecture at the Royal Society last Tuesday?"
"I had a conflict," he offered, lamely.
"A conflict? With what? You've never missed one of the opening lectures before. Not in recent memory, at least."
He tried not to react, though he wanted to grit his teeth. "I did not realize my schedule was your concern."
She sighed. "Oh, dear. I've upset you already—and I haven't even arrived at the purpose of my visit."
"Meaning that learning the purpose will only upset me further?"
"Yes, I daresay you shall not approve, but I've nowhere else to turn."
"Why do I feel a pressing need to close the door before you speak?"
She shot to her feet, so Quint started to rise as well. "No," she said, "please, stay seated. I think more clearly when I am standing."
Reluctantly, Quint lowered. He had no idea what she wanted, but with Sophie it could be nearly anything.
Whatever her troubles, Quint did not care. Could not care. A healthy distance between himself and others must be maintained, especially with anyone who'd known him before the accident. Therefore, he'd hear her out and then show her to the door.
He waited as she traveled the study floor, slapping her bonnet against her thigh. Nervous, clearly. Her dress was both expensive and flattering, yet her boots were worn. No jewels. A practical woman underneath the trappings of a lady.
And he hated that he still found her interesting, even after she'd so thoroughly rebuffed him more than three years ago.
"What in God's name is that?" She pointed to an abandoned teacup on the desk.
He shot up and grabbed the forgotten porcelain container, which held a greenish-brown gelatinous mixture comprised of various herbs and spices. It looked every bit as terrible as it had tasted. He set the cup inside his desk drawer.
"Why are you here, Sophie?"
She folded her arms over her chest, a motion that called attention to her small, enticing breasts. He forced his eyes away as she spoke. "I would normally approach Colton or Lord Winchester with this request, but as you know, they are both unavailable. You are the only person I can ask."
"Your flattery overwhelms, madam."
She stopped and pinned him with a hard stare. "I did not mean to offend you, as you well know. Stop being obdurate."
"Fine. I readily acknowledge I am to serve as the last resort. Pray, get it out, Sophie."
She straightened her shoulders, lifted her chin. "I need you to serve as my second."
Lord Quint never sputtered. He did not fluster or ever forget himself. Logical, reasonable, and maddeningly unflappable, she knew the viscount could be counted on to keep a level head. It was one of the things Sophie liked best about him.
So when his jaw dropped, she braced herself.
"Your second?" Quint's brows flattened. "You need me to serve as your second? For a duel? As in, ten paces in a field at dawn?"
"Yes. Precisely that."
"And with whom in the name of Heracles would you be dueling?"
She nibbled her lip. What were the chances she could avoid explaining it before he agreed? "Does it matter?"
He traveled around the bulk of the desk and stopped in front of her. Though she was on the tall side, he was a few inches taller. She liked that he didn't loom over her. It allowed her to better see his face, and he had an interesting face. Astute brown eyes with golden flecks. A strong, angular jaw. High, sharp cheekbones that set off a nose too masculine to ever be called pretty.
His hair was shaggy, his clothes rumpled and appallingly ill-matched. No, he did not inspire swoons in the ballroom, but perfection had never interested Sophie.
And there was the root of the problem.
The man was intelligent in ways most people couldn't even comprehend. They thought him odd. Unsocial. Aloof. He never danced or paid afternoon calls. But those opinions, if he even paused to hear them, didn't affect him as far as Sophie could tell. He exuded confidence, unshakable beliefs that were based on well-researched facts. His ability to recall the smallest detail he'd read fifteen years ago fascinated her.
Quint folded his arms across his chest. "Yes, it very much matters. And it's not as if you can hide the other party's identity, if I'm to serve as your second—unless you plan to blindfold me. But all of that is irrelevant as I cannot, in good conscience, allow you to go through with a duel."
Without a cravat, the strong column of his throat shifted and rippled as he talked, and she was reminded that she'd once had the opportunity to experience the power in his lithe frame. Had once shivered as he'd clutched her so tight she could hardly breathe.
But that was long ago, years now, all before he'd fallen in love with someone else. A lump formed in her throat, regret nearly choking her, but she forced it down. "And I cannot see how you can possibly prevent it. I do not need your approval."
Excerpted from The Lady Hellion by Joanna Shupe. Copyright © 2015 Joanna Shupe. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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