In an age of stately decorum, the Hope Diamond was a source of delicious intrigue—and a font of unimaginable adventure…
Though not of noble birth, Thomas Hope has a skill in banking that’s made him one of the richest, most trusted men in London. Still, he keeps his dubious past hidden. So when an old acquaintance calls on Hope to help acquire the infamous French Blue Diamond, he’s desperate to be discreet. He never expects that his biggest concern shouldn’t be losing his reputation, but his heart…
Sophia Blaise is determined to make a brilliant match with this season’s most eligible, most titled bachelor, but her true passion has been ignited by the incredible stories she hears while secretly transcribing the memoirs of a notorious Madam. After a night of clandestine writing ends with Sophia caught up in a scandalous adventure of her own—with an alluring banker—she begins to question whether she’s suited to the proper life she’s always known…
Caught up in a thrilling exploit and unexpected romance, Sophia must make a choice between what her head knows is safe and what her heart desperately desires, before both slip from her grasp forever…
About the Author
Jessica Peterson began reading romance to escape the decidedly unromantic awkwardness of her teenage years. Having found solace in the likes of Rhett Butler and Mr. Darcy, it wasn’t long before she began creating tall, dark, and handsome heroes of her own. She is the author of the Hope Diamond trilogy including The Gentleman Jewel Thief.
A graduate of Duke University, Jessica worked in investment banking before leaving to pursue her writerly dreams. She lives with her husband, the tall, dark, and handsome Mr. Peterson, in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Read an Excerpt
THE FRENCH BLUE:
A HISTORY OF THE WORLD’S GREATEST DIAMOND
By Thomas Hope
Across lands dry and rivers wide, through centuries of bloodshed and the downfall of great kingdoms, the French Blue’s siren call has, like forbidden fruit, proven irresistible to royal and common man alike.
It all began in that mythic land across the great sea: India. Nearly three hundred years ago, a blue-gray diamond the size of a snuffbox was mined from the bowels of the earth. The great Shah Jehan, an emperor the likes of which the world had never seen, made an offering of the jewel to the goddess Sita; he commissioned a great statue of his goddess, the diamond glittering from the center of her forehead as an all-seeing third eye.
It was during this time that a Frenchman by the name of Jean Baptiste Tavernier traveled to the court of Shah Jehan. Being French, Tavernier was by nature dirty, wily, a born thief, and, of course, a libertine. Goading the Shah with false gifts and flattery, Tavernier gained his trust, and the love of his court.
It is impossible to know what, exactly, happened next; but it is widely assumed that, just as the Shah pressed Tavernier to his breast as brother and friend, Tavernier betrayed him. Some accounts even posit the Frenchman slit his host’s throat; others, that Tavernier poisoned him and half his glorious court.
The goddess Sita was witness to the violence; and when Tavernier pried the jewel from her forehead with a dagger thieved from Shah Jehan’s still-warm body, Sita cursed the Frenchman and all those who would come to own the diamond after him.
Sewn into the forearm of a slave girl, the diamond was brought to Europe, where Tavernier sold it to Louis XIV for the princely sum of two hundred thousand livres. The Sun King recut the jewel to improve its luster and wore it slung about his royal breast on a blue ribbon. As part of the crown jewels of France, the diamond would be henceforth known as the French Blue.
Alas, the jewel that bewitched the Frenchman and the king would also bring doom upon their heads; Sita would see her curse satisfied. Tavernier, living out his last days exiled in the wilds of Russia, was torn limb from lip by a pack of wild dogs, and buried in an unmarked grave.
Neither were the kings of France immune to Sita’s curse; it was on a bitterly cold day in January when the last king, Louis XVI, lost his crown, his fortune, and his head before a crowd of angry Parisians.
And yet Sita’s thirst for vengeance is not yet satisfied. The French Blue, along with most of the crown jewels, was thieved in late 1791 from the Garde Mueble, a royal warehouse on the outskirts of Paris. No one knows who stole it, or where it might be hidden away; in a Bavarian duke’s treasure chest, perhaps, or the dirty pocket of a serving wench in Calais. The diamond could be anywhere.
While the trail grows cold, Sita’s thirst burns hot. The French Blue is far too glorious a gem to remain hidden forever. Only when it is again brought into the light; only when it is claimed by whomever is brave, or perhaps daft, enough to claim it; only then will Sita’s lust for blood be satisfied, and her curse at last fulfilled.
City of London
Duchess Street, near Cavendish Square
Resisting the impulse to leap from his chair, fists raised, with a great Huzzah!, Mr. Thomas Hope thrust the quill into its holder beside the inkwell. He gathered the pages scattered across his desk and settled in to read the History.
The gray afternoon light was fading, and he drew the oil lamp closer so that he might read his masterwork without having to squint. For a masterwork it was, surely; how could it not be, after the years Hope dreamed of the diamond, researched its origins and the fantastic claims behind its curse?
But as his eyes traveled the length of each sentence, it became abundantly clear that Hope’s History was no masterwork. Indeed, it was something else altogether.
Dear God, it was awful. Dramatic to the extreme, like an opera, but without the painted prima donna to compensate for its lack of narrative savvy. The size of a snuffbox. Whence had come that rubbish?
Tossing the pages onto the desk, Hope tugged a hand through his tangle of wayward curls. He was reading too much of that brooding, wicked man Lord Byron, and it was starting to take its toll on his pen.
He didn’t have time for such frivolity besides. Hope had a goodly bit of work waiting for him back at the bank, and an even larger bit—a barrel, actually—of cognac to drink this evening.
Literary aspirations all but shot to hell, Hope was about to crumple the pages into his fists, when a strange noise, sounding suspiciously like muffled laughter, broke out over his shoulder.
His blood rushed cold. Not one of his men, the butler or a steward or a cashier from the bank. He was not expecting any visitors, and the hour for social calls had long passed.
Hope glanced across the gleaming expanse of his desk. His eyes landed on a silver letter opener, winking from its place beside the inkwell. Then there was the pistol in the top right drawer, of course, and the bejeweled Italian dagger in its box on the shelf; and his fists, he couldn’t very well discount those weapons—
He swallowed, hard. Those days were behind him. The time for violence and subterfuge had passed; Hope was a respectable man of business now, like his father, and his father before him.
Respectable men of business did not greet visitors with a sock to the eye or a bejeweled dagger thrust at their throats.
At least not in England.
Removing his spectacles one ear at a time, he carefully placed them beside the pages on his desk. For a moment he closed his eyes, pulse racing.
Hope spun about in his chair. The breath left his body when his gaze fell on the hulking figure that loomed half a step behind him.
“Oh, God.” Hope gaped. “Not you. Not now.”
Smirking in that familiar way of his—one side of his mouth kicked up saucily, provokingly—Mr. Henry Beaton Lake reached past Hope and lifted the History from the desk.
“‘Forbidden fruit’?” Lake wheezed. “Oh God indeed! That’s bad, old man, very bad. I advise you to leave alliteration to the feebleminded, poets and the like. And the curse!”
Here Mr. Lake whooped with laughter, going so far as to bend over and slap his knee with great jollity. “Brilliant, I say, brilliant! Reading your little history, I’d almost venture you believed it. Heavens, what a good laugh you’ve given me, and how in the gloom of these past months I’ve needed it!”
Hope snatched the pages from Mr. Lake’s pawlike hand and stuffed them into a drawer. “It’s a work in progress,” he growled. “I wasn’t expecting to share it, not yet. What in hell are you doing here, and in daylight? Someone could have seen you.”
Lake turned and leaned the backs of his enormous thighs against the desk. He crossed his ankles, then his arms, and looked down at Hope. “Anxious as always, old friend. You haven’t changed a bit—well, except for those clothes. You look like a peacock.”
Hope watched as Lake’s penetrating gaze lingered a moment on Hope’s crisply knotted cravat, his simple but exquisitely cut kerseymere waistcoat, and the onyx-studded watch peeking from his pocket.
“And you, Lake, look like a pirate out of Robinson Crusoe. What of it?” Hope took in Lake’s broad shoulders, the corded muscles in his neck. He wore the black patch over his eye as some men wore a well-cut dinner jacket: with pride and a sort of impudent, knowing smile, confident any female in the vicinity would find him a little dangerous, wholly debonair, and far too tempting to resist.
“Thank you for the compliment.” Lake’s smile broadened. “And you needn’t worry about being seen associating with the likes of me. I used the alley, and came in through the drawing room window.”
“Of course you did. Still up to your old tricks, then?”
“King and country, Hope,” Mr. Lake sighed, the laughter fading from his face. “Boney didn’t stop when you and I parted ways. Someone needed to stay and fight.”
Hope looked away, blinking back the sting of Lake’s words. A beat of uncomfortable silence settled between them.
At last Lake pushed to his feet and made his way to the sideboard.
Hope watched the man limp across the room, his right leg remaining stiff at the knee. For a moment sadness and regret pressed heavy into his chest. Too many memories; memories that Hope did not care to revisit.
Mr. Lake held up an etched decanter. “Mind if I pour us a finger, or three?”
“I do indeed mind, very much,” Hope replied.
But as he expected, Lake paid him no heed. His guest busied himself at the sideboard, and a moment later returned with a generous pour of brandy in each of two bulbous snifters.
“I’ve too many engagements this evening to begin with brandy, and at so early an hour,” Hope said, but even as the words left his mouth he found himself reaching for the snifter Lake had set before him. Something about the man’s stone-set gaze made Hope feel as if he’d need a drink, and then some, after Mr. Lake revealed what he’d come for.
Hope watched Lake lower himself with a wince into the high-backed chair on the other side of the desk. He took a long pull of brandy and, after he felt the familiar fire relax his limbs, asked, “How’s the leg?”
Lake finished his own pull before replying. “Good, bad, it’s all the same. Scares off the right people, attracts all the wrong ones. I rather prefer it that way.”
Hope scoffed, grinning wistfully at his brandy. “And you. You haven’t changed, either. Not a bit.”
Again charged silence stretched across the desk. Hope gulped his liquor. Lake did the same.
“The outcome of the war in Spain shall be decided in the coming weeks.” Lake’s voice was low. He did not meet Hope’s gaze. “Wellington marches for Madrid; when the battle comes, it shall turn the tide of our fortunes there. For better or worse, I cannot say. That wastrel Frenchman Marmont, damn him, has the luck of the devil. The lives of thousands, tens of thousands, of British soldiers hang in the balance. My men—good men, smart men—they will die. Men like you.”
“I was never one of your men, Lake. I was a refugee in need of aid and asylum. You gave me what I needed, and in return I gave you the same.” Hope looked down at his glass. “I was never one of your men.”
Lake’s one pale eye snapped upward. “Yes, you were. You still are.”
Hope tried not to flinch as he waited for what he knew came next.
“We need you,” Lake said. “Your country needs you. To turn the tide in our favor.”
Ah, so there it was. Hope knew he should run and hide, for those very words spelled the death of hundreds of England’s finest men.
But with his earnest eye—the one eye the surgeon managed to save, after the accident—Lake pinned Mr. Hope to his chair.
“I would help if I could.” Hope splayed his palms on the desk. “But it’s the same as it was ten years ago. I was born to count, Lake, not to spy. My father was banker to the great houses of Europe, and his father before that. After I fled the Continent, I dreamed of restoring Hope and Company to its former glory. And now I’ve done that. I’m a respectable man of business—”
“Man of business, yes, but the respectable bit is questionable.”
Hope chewed the inside of his lip to keep from rolling his eyes. “Regardless, I’ve a lot at stake. People depend on me, lots of people. Clients, employees. I can’t risk the livelihood of thousands of families—never mind my own, my brothers, bless their black souls—by engaging in your sort of intrigue. It’s bad business. I’ve worked long and hard to build my reputation. I won’t see that work undone, and millions lost along the way.”
Hope sipped his brandy, then swirled it in its glass. “But you knew I would say all that. So, Lake. Tell me why you are here.”
Lake drained his glass and smacked his lips. “I’m here because of that diamond you write so very ardently about.”
“The French Blue?” Hope eyed his visitor. “Quite the coincidence, that you should appear out of the ether just as I am finishing my history.”
“I thought together we might begin a new chapter of your lovely little history,” Lake said. “And you know as well as I do it’s no coincidence. You’ve heard the rumors, same as me. You’re going to buy the diamond from her, aren’t you?”
Hope looked down at his hands. Damn him, how did Lake know everything? He assumed the existence of the French Blue in England was a well-kept secret. The Princess of Wales made sure of that, seeing as she likely came into possession of the diamond through illegal, perhaps even treasonous, means.
But Hope assumed wrong. He should have known better, especially when it came to Henry Beaton Lake, privateer-cum-spy extraordinaire. The man sniffed out secrets as a bloodhound would a fox: instinctively, confidently, his every sense alive with the hunt.
“Perhaps.” Hope swept back a pair of curls with his fingers. “I admit I am looking to expand my collection. And diamonds—jewels—they are good investments. In the last decade alone—”
“Psh!” Lake threw back his head. “You’re buying it for a woman, aren’t you?”
This time Hope did not hold back rolling his eyes. “I avoid attachments to women for the very same reasons I avoid the likes of you. Much as I admire the female sex.”
“You did a great deal more than admire said sex when we were in France.”
“That was almost ten years ago, and hardly signifies.”
Lake leveled his gaze with Hope’s. “The distractions of women aside. You are attempting to buy the French Blue from Princess Caroline. I’m asking you to buy it for me. For England.”
Hope choked on his brandy. Before he could protest, Lake pushed onward.
“We’ve tried to buy the stone from the princess, but she is holding it hostage from her husband the prince and, by extension, our operation. Relations between them are worse than ever. I’m shocked, frankly, that they haven’t yet tried to poison one another.”
“Would that we were so lucky as to be delivered from that nincompoop they have the nerve to call regent.”
Lake waved away his words. “I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that. If we manage to obtain the French Blue, we could very well change the course of the war. For years now old Boney’s been on the hunt for the missing crown jewels of France. We have reason to believe he’d trade valuable concessions for the largest and most notorious of those jewels. In exchange for the French Blue, that blackhearted little toad might hand over prisoners, a Spanish city or two. We could very well save hundreds, if not thousands, of lives, and in a single stroke.”
Hope let out a long, hot breath. “You’re shameless, Lake. Absolutely shameless. I refuse to be cowed into thinking I’m a selfish bastard for wanting to protect the interests of those who depend on me for their livelihoods, and their fortunes. I care for the thousands of lives you’ll save, I do, but—”
“But.” Lake held up his finger. “You are a selfish bastard, then.”
Hope gritted his teeth, balling his palms into fists. “I’ve too much at stake,” he repeated. “Princess Caroline has been a client of Hope and Company for years. She is more dangerous than she appears, and wily besides. I’m sunk if she uncovers the plot. I won’t do it.”
For a long moment Lake looked at Hope, his one pale eye unblinking. He shifted in his chair and winced, sucking in a breath as he slowly rested his weight on the bad leg.
The leg that had saved Hope from becoming a cripple, or a corpse, himself.
“Not even for me, old friend?” Lake’s face was tensed with pain, and glowing red.
Hope shook his head. “Shameless.” He laughed, a mirthless sound. “How do you know I’m worthy of the task? I am not the nimble shadow I once was. These days, a daring evening is a few too many fingers of liquor and a long, deep sleep—alone, sadly—in my bed.”
All traces of pain disappeared from Lake’s face as he grinned. “You are not as handsome as you once were, I’ll give you that. But I wouldn’t have asked you if I didn’t believe you were a capable partner in crime. We shall work together, of course.”
“Of course.” Hope sighed in defeat. “So. What’s the play?”
Lake leaned forward, resting his forearms on his knees, and rubbed his palms together with a look of fiendish glee. “Those engagements you have—cancel them. We make our move tonight.”
King Street, St. James’s Square
Adebutante of small name and little fortune would, surely, commit any number of unspeakable acts in exchange for a voucher to Almack’s Assembly Rooms. For there lurked unmarried gentlemen of the rich, titled variety, the kind with palaces in the country and interests in exotic things like shiny boots and perfectly coiffed sideburns.
So why did Miss Sophia Blaise’s pulse thump with something akin to relief, exhilaration, even, when one of said gentlemen excused himself from her company and disappeared into the crush?
The Marquess of Withington was not the handsomest peer, but he was the richest, and quite the Corinthian besides. His sideburns were surely the most perfect and the most coiffed, and his boots very shiny indeed. Every heiress and duke’s daughter would willingly claw out the other’s eyes for a chance to be courted by the marquess; such crimes were tolerated, welcomed, even, while on the hunt for this season’s most eligible quarry.
Even now, as Sophia teetered awkwardly on the edge of the ballroom, she felt the sting of stares from venomous female passersby. Her two-minute conversation with the marquess was apparently grounds for preemptive attack by her fellow fortune hunters.
But Sophia was nothing if not ambitious. She took a certain pride in being the object of such naked envy. Perhaps she did have a chance at making the brilliant match to which she’d always aspired, after all. Perhaps the marquess—the filthy-rich, swoon-worthy marquess!—was not so far out of reach.
The conversation itself had been a moderate success—his eyes had remained glued to her bosom, yes, but he had laughed at her jests—and even in the wake of her relief at his departure, Sophia felt the satisfaction of a job well done.
Now she had only to dread their next interaction.
“It will get easier,” her mother counseled earlier that evening, swaying in time with the carriage.
“You mustn’t take it too seriously,” Cousin Violet said. She took a swig from her flask and let out a small hiss of satisfaction. “Men like Withington are in possession of little wit, and even less intelligence. You’ve nothing to fear from them.”
It certainly hadn’t gotten easier, or any less serious, as the beginning weeks of the season passed with alarming speed.
For as long as Sophia could remember, she desired two things above all else: to make a brilliant match with the season’s most eligible bachelor, and a suitably large castle to go with him. Having grown up in a family teetering on the edge of penury, Sophia desired stability, security, too, and a man like the marquess could provide her all that and more: the titles, the crests, the fortune and fame.
She was not prepared, however, for just how difficult it would be to fulfill her ambitions. Nor did she anticipate how intimidating, how repellent, she would find a goodly majority of the gentlemen who belonged to said titles and crests.
Her first season, in short, was turning out to be quite a disaster. Yes, quite.
Sophia’s shoulders slumped.
But even as the weight of that sobering truth bore down upon her heart, a flicker of anticipation pulsed there. Faint at first, it flamed hotter as the minutes passed. The hour of her departure from Almack’s drew near; which meant, of course, Sophia was that much closer to her second engagement of the evening.
And this one, praise God, had nothing at all to do with sideburns or castles.
Sophia shivered with anticipation when at last the family’s musty, creaking carriage jostled its occupants away from Almack’s door on King Street later that evening, making for the family’s ramshackle manse in Grosvenor Square.
“You’re smiling.” Violet eyed Sophia from across the carriage. “What’s wrong?”
Sophia bit the inside of her lip, hoping to hide her grin of excitement. “Nothing out of the usual, Cousin. I very likely offended a marquess. Being the graceful swan that I am, I stepped on Lord Pealey’s feet—yes, both of them—during the minuet.”
Violet shrugged. “That makes for a better turn at Almack’s than last week.”
Lady Blaise said nothing as she swatted back Cousin Violet’s attempt at another swig from her flask.
Violet tilted her head back and swigged anyway, draining every last drop.
Sophia sighed and looked out the window. One more hour. One more hour until my escape.
* * *
Pulling her hood over her nose, Sophia leaned against the crumbling brick of her uncle’s house and stepped into her boots, one stockinged foot at a time. She straightened and peered into the shadows, long and sinister in the flickering light of the gas lamps. Satisfied no one was about, she stole into the square, pressing to her breast the pages hidden in her cloak.
The night was cool and clammy; there would be rain. Above, the stars hid behind a thin layer of gray cloud, while the light of the full moon shone through like a lone, opaque eye, following her as she moved through the dark.
With each step her pulse quickened. The daring of it all, the risk—reputation, ruination, retribution—was immense. And exhilarating, all at once.
Whatever this feeling was, it far outshone the anxiety, and the disappointment, she’d experienced while in the Marquess of Withington’s presence at Almack’s.
It was not far to The Glossy. While Sophia had no occasion on which to dwell on such things, it had surprised her nonetheless that establishments such as La Reinette’s populated Mayfair as thickly as potbellied peers.
Those potbellied peers, Sophia had quickly discovered, were possessed of wicked appetites in more ways than one.
The Glossy occupied a stately spot between Viscount Pickering’s massive pile and the Earl of Sussex’s broad, tired-looking townhouse. Now Sophia understood why Sussex was such a jolly fellow, despite a succession of sour-faced wives.
Its namesake shutters were lacquered deep blue, the slick paint glittering in the low light of lanterns on either side of the front door. Sophia slipped past The Glossy’s facade onto a narrow lane that descended along one side of the house. She stopped at a hedgerow—wait, yes, this was the one—and ducked into the boxwood’s firm grasp.
For several heartbeats she scraped through the darkness, complete and sweet smelling. She emerged onto a small but immaculately groomed courtyard, illuminated by exotic-looking torches standing guard around the perimeter. With light footsteps she crossed to a door, half-hidden by a budding vine of wisteria. She knocked once. Twice.
Waited a beat.
Then knocked twice more.
The door opened. A tall mulatto emerged, his enormous bulk occupying the whole of the threshold. His black eyes sparked with recognition as they fell upon Sophia’s half-hidden face.
“Good evening, miss.” He bowed. “Please, come in. The madam is waiting for you. Lily will show you up.”
Sophia stepped into the hall but did not remove her hood.
The scent of fresh-cut flowers, mingled with a vivid musk Sophia had yet to name, filled her nostrils. She followed Lily, a yellow-haired woman so beautiful it was difficult not to stare, down a wide gallery and up a curving stair.
The Glossy was as lovely as Sophia remembered. Lovelier even than the first-rate homes of the ton, for La Reinette eschewed overstuffed severity in favor of feminine flair. Enormously tall ceilings were frescoed in the Italian style, blues and pinks and naked bodies aflutter. Light sparkled from heavy crystal chandeliers. The gilt furniture was upholstered in various shades of ivory and pink. Paintings lined the walls, depicting lovers past in various states of repose—Tristan and Isolde, Diana and Actaeon, Romeo and Juliet.
When at last Lily drew up before a pair of painted doors, Sophia was dizzy, intoxicated by her surroundings. Lily opened the doors and Sophia stepped mutely over the threshold, blinking to bring her blood back to life.
Before she could thank her guide, the doors swung shut behind her. A voice, thick and seductive, called out from inside the room.
“Ah, mademoiselle! S’il vous plaît, entrez, entrez!”
La Reinette approached, knotting the tasseled belt of her Japanese silk robe. She dropped into an elegant curtsy, and in her excitement Sophia did the same. La Reinette was more legend than lady; really, how did one greet the mistress to prime ministers and Continental royalty? She was called the little queen—la reinette—for good reason.
Madame clucked her tongue and lifted Sophia by her elbows. She drew back Sophia’s hood and smiled in that languid way only Frenchwomen could, placing her palms on Sophia’s neck.
Her spine tingled at La Reinette’s touch. “Good evening, Madame. I am happy to see you again.”
“And I am very happy, yes.” Madame nodded at a table and chairs set before the fire. On the table, several quills were placed beside a mother-of-pearl inkwell and a quire of fine paper. “Come, let us sit. I am most eager to see the work you have done with my tales.”
Sophia settled into her chair and placed the pages, bound in thin red ribbon, on the table. She watched as La Reinette hovered at a sideboard, pouring red wine into elegant goblets. Without asking, Madame placed a goblet on the table before Sophia and swept into the chair opposite.
“Drink it,” Madame said. “It is very good, from my country. Not the vinegar that is made in Italy. It helps me to remember. I think it will help you to write.”
Sophia brought the glass to her lips, gaze flicking to meet Madame’s. In the glow of the fire her eyes appeared wholly black, like a stag’s; a striking foil to her pale skin and hair.
Sophia pushed the bound pages across the table. “The edits from our first meeting are complete, and I compiled everything you gave me from the second. I—” Sophia blushed. “I enjoyed this week’s tales. Thoroughly. That spy you knew, back in France—the one with the curls, who could fell a girl with his gaze alone? He is my favorite gentleman yet.”
Again Madame smiled. “Yes,” she said. “He is my favorite, too.”
She placed a reticule, woven with pink thread, before Sophia on the table.
“Five pounds, as we agreed, and a bonus.” Madame held up a thin, elegant hand at Sophia’s protest. “It is no small risk you take, visiting me like this.”
“I have come to enjoy our meetings, very much.” Sophia squirreled away the reticule in the folds of her cloak. “The adventure you have seen, and the gentlemen you have known—they certainly don’t make them like that in England.”
Madame raised an eyebrow. “Your prince, you have not found him yet? But this is your season!”
“No prince. Not yet. Perhaps it is not my season, after all.” Sophia set down her wine and picked up a quill, examining its sharpened nib. “But I’d rather discuss your princes. Where did we leave off last week? Oh yes, the spy, the one with the gaze. Together you were boarding a ship bound for Southampton—”
Sophia started at an enormous sound, the walls set trembling as if by thunder. The thump thump thump of heavy footsteps followed—running, whomever the footsteps belonged to was running—and drew closer with each passing heartbeat. So many footsteps it sounded as if The Glossy were being invaded by the whole of the French army.
She ducked at the violent, throaty crack of—dear God, was that a pistol? It couldn’t be, not here, not in Mayfair, not in the madam’s inner sanctum . . .
Sophia’s thoughts ran riot. Madame had promised her discretion, protection too, and assured her she would not be seen by any guest, man or woman. But what if, by some accident, she were to be seen? And by, God forbid, someone she knew—someone who mattered?
“Are you expecting visitors?”
“No.” La Reinette’s mouth was a tight white line. She set down her goblet and twisted in her chair at the sudden racket by the doors.
They catapulted open, banging against the walls.
To Sophia’s very great horror, Mr. Thomas Hope sprang breathlessly into La Reinette’s chamber, dark tendrils of hair curling from his forehead in a disheveled—and rather dashing—manner. A small but deep cut on his cheek oozed blood in thick, languorous drops.
His wide blue eyes swept over Sophia before landing on the madam.
With an authority that startled Sophia from her staring, he said, “Hide me. Now.”
It began as a familiar tingle at the back of Hope’s neck, a spider of suspicion waking long-dormant senses as Lake, playing coachman, jostled the carriage into evening traffic.
They were being followed.
Darkness had fallen early, but even so Hope could see two blurs of blackness, blacker even than shadow, following them down the lane. Riders, their cloaks billowing about them in a close breeze.
With practiced nonchalance, Hope sat straight-backed beside the window. He yanked his beaver hat over his unruly curls and watched his new friends from the corner of his eye.
They were sufficiently sinister-looking, and held back just far enough, to confirm Hope’s suspicion that these men were out for blood.
His blood. Lake’s, too.
Why, he couldn’t say. Except that half the world was out for Lake’s blood, and for good reason.
Hope cursed under his breath. Not two hours with Mr. Henry Beaton Lake and already they courted just the kind of attention Hope wished to avoid.
He banged his fist to the roof. “We’ve got company.”
“Haha!” came Lake’s muffled reply. “And so the plot thickens!”
Hope was thrown back in his seat as Lake jolted the team into a canter. He cursed again. Moving this fast through the streets of Mayfair made them as conspicuous as highwaymen on the run.
Bad for business, his arse. If Hope made it out of this little assignment alive, he would be ruined, and quite thoroughly at that.
Amid the shouts of outraged groomsmen and foulmouthed pedestrians, Hope continued to watch the riders. They kept pace with the carriage, the hooves of their horses pounding the cobblestones in perfect synchronicity. With each stride they drew nearer, making Hope’s pulse leap.
He tucked a curl behind one ear. “They’re gaining.”
“I see that!” Lake replied, voice edged with annoyance.
The carriage lurched forward, the horses now in an all-out gallop. Hope swallowed, hard, and watched as the street lamps whisked by with alarming speed. He dug his fingers into the velvet upholstery of his seat. Images of an overturned carriage, his mangled body slung across one of its wheels as Lake skipped away, whistling, filled his head.
“We’ve got to do something!” he called. “They’re going to catch us!”
“Distract them!” Lake growled in reply.
Hope pitched forward onto the floor as Lake narrowly avoided mauling a woman and her husband in full ballroom attire. Lake was many things—spy, mentor, pirate, scoundrel—but a coachman he was not.
“Distract them? How?”
“I can’t do everything!” Lake shouted. “Think, you idiot!”
Think. Hope gritted his teeth and pushed off the floor into his seat. If the front wall of the carriage didn’t separate them, he would think about smashing his fist into Lake’s face.
By now the riders were so close, Hope could hear their horses snorting with effort as they kept pace. His heart pummeled his ribs, and for a moment panic threatened to drown what little sanity he had left.
Think. Think what? He was trapped in a runaway carriage, chased down by men he didn’t know for reasons he couldn’t begin to guess. He had a pistol tucked into the pocket of his jacket, yes, but he couldn’t very well start a firefight in the middle of a busy lane.
No, there would be no confrontation. At least not here, for all of Mayfair to see. That would be very bad business indeed.
What the hell did Lake expect him to do?
Hope dared another peek out into the night. A familiar stuccoed facade, windows framed by shiny blue shutters, passed by the window. Hope’s blood leapt in sudden recognition.
Why hadn’t Hope thought of it before? La Reinette was one of his oldest clients, and a friend besides. Her house, being what it was, was filled with secret stairways, trapdoors, and hidden rooms; a more perfect place for avoiding certain capture and death did not exist in all England.
Hope peered down at the lane below. He’d have to jump; if Lake stopped the coach, the riders would be on them in half a heartbeat.
He blinked, fear clawing its way through him.
He blinked again. He had to act fast, or he would not act at all.
He raised his foot and pounded it against the carriage door with all the strength he could muster.
He nearly laughed when the door did not budge. And then on second thought, he nearly cried.
Again and again he pounded against the door until it suddenly swung open, banging violently against the outside of the carriage.
Lake was shouting something; the horses were screaming and the cobblestones of the lane below dashed together with dizzying speed. A rider drew close, his face hidden by the collar of his jacket.
Hope crouched, holding either side of the door opening. Without further ado, he closed his eyes and leapt forward, out into the night.
He landed, hard, on his feet, pain radiating up his shins to land screaming in his knees. He sucked in his breath, wincing, but didn’t resist the forward momentum of his body. He ran for The Glossy and leapt over the low wall that bordered the property, clearing it with nary an inch to spare.
Behind him he heard shouts, and the whinnying of horses as the cloaked riders rode after him. Hope pumped his arms and legs harder, harder, so hard it felt as if his heart would break free from his chest. He struggled to breathe, lungs burning with the need for air.
Unfamiliar voices rang out over his shoulder, followed by the crunch of footsteps on the gravel drive. The riders were on his heels and gaining ground.
Hope ducked into the familiar hedge. Too late did he think to draw up his fists to protect his face, as an errant branch poked boldly into his cheek. He gritted his teeth against the sting—perhaps like Lake he would at last have a dashing souvenir of his daring—and pushed through onto the courtyard.
He didn’t wait for Umberto to open the door, and instead rammed against it with his shoulder. To his very great surprise—so great, in fact, that Hope lost his footing entirely—the door splintered beneath his weight.
Catapulting arse over head into the foyer, Hope pushed clumsily to his feet. He waved away Umberto’s pistol and pointed out to the night.
“Them,” he wheezed. “Get them!” He turned and took off running through the house.
Hope climbed the stairs three at a time, but tripped to his knees on the top step at the sound of a pistol shot. His heart turned over in his chest. In the close quarters of the house it might as well have been heavy cannon it was so loud; the chandelier was still shivering above Hope’s head as he grappled to his feet.
He tore down the second-story gallery, pulse roaring when he heard the footsteps, heavy, hurried, behind him.
At least one of the riders had made it past Umberto.
Hope swallowed the panic that rose in his chest. He pushed through the tall doors at the end of the gallery, his every sense alive with pain.
And then he nearly swallowed his tongue at the scene before him.
A pretty—very pretty—dark-haired girl sat, mouth agape, beside La Reinette.
Why the devil was Miss Sophia Blaise, exhaustingly virginal debutante, meeting with La Reinette in the middle of the night—and on a Wednesday?
As the cousin of one of Hope’s largest investors—Lady Violet Rutledge and her father were some of Hope’s oldest and best clients—her very presence threatened Hope’s attempt to keep his clandestine activities exactly that.
So much for discretion. Mr. Lake and his follies were very bad for business indeed.
In a single glance, Hope took in Sophia’s expression, equal parts curiosity and horror; the small reticule, heavy with coin, tucked into her long cloak; and her long, ink-stained fingers, clutching at the worn collar of her simple gown.
A puzzle, and an intriguing one at that.
But Hope didn’t have time for puzzles. Especially not tonight, with the pounding footsteps of his pursuers drawing closer with each passing moment.
With some effort he turned his gaze to the madam, which she returned steadily, expressionless.
“Hide me,” he panted. “Now.”
Miss Blaise sprang to her feet, eyes so wide he had to resist the impulse to hold out his hand to catch them should they pop free of her head.
“Hide you?” Her voice rose with panic. “Hide me!”
He did not have time for this. But he didn’t have time to protest, either; the riders were hot on his heels.
And so he reached for Miss Blaise, wrapping his fingers around her elbow as he tugged her alongside him. He ignored her gasp as he followed La Reinette across the room, the madam’s footsteps silent amid those, drawing closer, of his pursuers.
La Reinette drew up before the far wall, embellished in elaborate gilt plasterwork. She placed both hands on one side of a framed painting and pushed.
A panel the width of Hope’s forearm swung open to reveal a closet set into the wall. A high shelf held a red lacquer box and a haphazard stack of books.
Everything was covered in a furry layer of dust.
Beside Hope, Sophia gaped at the closet in horror.
La Reinette met his eyes over Sophia’s head.
“It is this, or the certain death,” Madame said. She reached out and with her thumb swiped at the cut on his cheek. He felt the warm smear of blood on his skin. She pulled back with a frown, rubbing his blood between the pads of her thumb and forefinger.
The footsteps in the gallery grew louder. Hope heard the labored breathing of his assailants as they cursed their way toward La Reinette’s chamber.
Hope pulled Sophia against him, her breast to his belly. With a look that implored her to silence, he wrapped an arm about her shoulders and ducked both their bodies into the closet.
His shoulders—gah!—got stuck halfway in. Hope was forced to pull Sophia tightly against him—so tightly she let out a little gasp of pain as at last they slid into the tiny space.
La Reinette shoved the panel back into place, pressing it against the side of Hope’s body with such force his shoulder cracked to fit inside.
Darkness settled over Hope and Miss Blaise, along with a hysterical silence.
Well. This was awkward.
“Are you all right?” he whispered.
“No. No, most certainly not all right,” came her muffled reply.
“Excellent.” He tried to stand very still, not daring even to breathe. “Me neither.”
Her chest heaved rather invitingly against his as she attempted to catch her breath. He was suddenly aware of her warmth, her every limb pressed against his own. Knees, forearms, hips, and even her nose, which grazed the sensitive skin at the base of his throat.
He took a deep, steadying breath, inhaling her scent as he did so. She smelled of fresh air and wine; not a hint of perfume. It was lovely, made lovelier by the novelty of it. Debutantes of her shape and stripe usually inhabited clouds of sickly-sweet tuberose and ambergris; he could always smell a fortune hunter long before he saw one.
Needless to say, Hope’s deep breath had the opposite of its intended effect.
Hope felt Miss Blaise tremble as the sound of male voices filled La Reinette’s chamber. He sensed her rising panic and quickly covered her mouth with his free hand, his own heart racing as La Reinette exchanged words with his pursuers.
There were two men, and they were responding to the madam’s queries in rapid-fire French. To Hope’s surprise, the intruders spoke the sort of airy, refined French of the ancien régime.
They were well-bred, aristocrats.
Or, at the very least, pretending to be.
In a voice like gravel, one of the men told Madame they were looking for a dangerous man, dark-haired with blue eyes, very tall.
Recognition pulsed in Hope’s chest. That voice! It was vaguely familiar—he knew it in another time and place, another life—though he struggled to place it.
La Reinette responded to the intruder’s queries with convincing bafflement, warning that while she had seen no such man, she would not allow them to bother her clients in the other rooms.
The men ignored La Reinette, and began to ransack the room. Drawers opened, pages scattered, a heavy piece of furniture skidded with a crash across the wood floor.
One of the men was pacing the room, his footsteps growing louder until Hope sensed his presence nary a hairsbreadth from the wall behind which Hope now cowered.
Suddenly the closet was filled with a strange, hoarse scraping noise. The intruder, running his hands along the gilded expanse of the wall.
Hope’s heart sank even as it raced faster and faster with each passing second. The man’s hands were now passing directly over the wall panel that hid Hope and Miss Blaise; Hope heard the man’s labored breathing, the crinkling of his cloak as he bent to inspect the baseboard.
As noiselessly as he could manage, Hope tried to reach for the pistol in his jacket. But Miss Blaise was wound too tightly in his arms for him to access it; he had no room in which to move besides.
The scraping sound of the intruder’s hand halted just as suddenly as it began. Hope nearly choked with relief; Miss Blaise remained stiff and shivering against him.
Hope removed his hand from her mouth. As if on cue, Miss Blaise whimpered, a small but succinct sound.
She froze. He froze. The voices in the room went silent.
La Reinette tried to pass the sound off as her own, and began offering her unwanted guests the company of her girls.
But they were not listening.
Their footsteps were impatient and heavy as they hurried toward the closet, cursing with glee in their native tongue. With their gloved hands they pressed against the panel where it met with Hope’s shoulder. He gritted his teeth against the tight burn that laced through his arm. He pulled Sophia against him, and braced himself for—
Well. For whatever came next.
Yes, Sophia was in a state of most acute distress; yes, she was, in the next five minutes, likely to face death and dismemberment; and yes, she was in the arms of an apparently dangerous, definitely handsome man, the crisp lapels of his dinner jacket sliding up and down her breasts with each breath he took, his scent of sandalwood and lemon faint but delicious.
Even in the midst of such ghastly circumstances, she marveled at her stupidity. Though the whimper had escaped her lips instinctively, without invitation, she cursed herself for ruining their chances of escaping these goons unscathed.
Never mind the fact that the whimper had nothing at all to do with said goons. She’d whimpered not out of fear or distress or panic. No.
Sophia had whimpered at the loss of Mr. Thomas Hope’s touch. Oh, that touch.
It was confident and urgent and very warm. A lovely little shiver had raced through her at the sensation of his skin pressed against her own. Combined with the heat of their tangled limbs, it was enough to fill Sophia’s head with all sorts of salacious imaginings. How it would feel, for example, if it were his lips pressed against her mouth, instead of his palm. How that palm might make its way down the slope of her neck to cup her shoulder, then her breast—
Good God. La Reinette’s tales of romance and adventure had certainly taken root in Sophia’s fertile imagination.
But now that Sophia was in the midst of her own adventure—the romance bit had yet to materialize, but she apparently longed for it, madly—she was making a muck of it. Indeed, if she kept whimpering—really, who whimpered?—this was going to be her first, and last, adventure. Ever.
Sophia’s bare hands were caught between their bodies, her palms pressed against Mr. Hope’s broad, solid chest. She felt his heart pounding beneath the layers of his clothes, and pound yet harder when the men chasing him began clawing at the panel behind which she and Hope were hiding.
This was bad. Very, very bad.
Panic sliced through her. Instinctively her fingers clenched on Hope’s chest, pulling at the fine fabric of his jacket. The first two fingers stilled when they gathered between them something jarringly hard and shapely tucked into his waistcoat.
Her fingers went to work, tracing the outline of what felt to be—oh dear, it was indeed—a pistol.
Her blood jumped. A pistol! Hysteria sparked at the back of her throat, stoked to flames by the intruders’ incessant pounding against the closet panel. She tried to draw her hand away but Mr. Hope held her too tightly, pressing her hand firmly against his weapon.
La Reinette would have used just such a euphemism in her tales, Sophia thought wildly, and together they would have laughed about it over their pages and their wine.
The thought calmed Sophia, and she wondered what, exactly, would La Reinette, that great admirer of dangerous men, do in this situation?
As soon as she asked the question, Sophia knew the answer.
La Reinette would take matters into her own hands. Literally.
Mr. Hope’s pistol pressed invitingly against Sophia’s palm. She knew he could not reach the pistol himself, his arms stuck akimbo in the tiny closet. In the darkness she tapped twice on the gun, and while she could not see his face, she felt his eyes upon her. A beat of understanding passed between them; Hope loosened his grip on her so that she might grasp the pistol.
She curled her fingers around the metal, warm after having been tucked against the heat of his body. The weight of it nearly snapped her wrist as she pulled it from Hope’s waistcoat. It was bigger than she’d imagined, and felt sinister in her hand.
Another euphemism that would have made La Reinette proud.
“Be careful,” Mr. Hope hissed. “Have you ever shot before?”
“Well,” he answered tightly. “There’s a first time for everything, isn’t there, Miss Blaise?”
The intruders’ pounding became unbearable. The wall that hid Sophia and Hope clattered against its frame, and finally splintered with a heartrending crack.
“Careful!” Hope breathed into her ear as the light from Madame’s chamber flooded the closet.
The intruders, their masked, unshaven faces feral, peered over the debris like two red-eyed raccoons. They pulled what was left of the panel away from the closet. One of them—Sophia knew he was the cigar-voiced man, just by looking at him—sneered and lunged forward.
Mr. Hope propelled their bodies out of the closet, tucking Sophia behind his broad shoulders. She glanced down at the pistol, able to see it at last in the light.
It was enormous.
Not only that. It was enormously complicated-looking.
The sneering intruder was on them now, swinging at Hope. He ducked just in time, allowing Sophia the perfect shot: the intruder’s wide chest was exposed as he fell headfirst toward her.
She stepped forward and raised the gun, using both arms to support its weight. Slipping her finger into the inviting arc of the trigger, she gritted her teeth and pulled.
“Deuced thing!” she cried.
Before she could try again, Mr. Hope was behind her, wrapping his arms around her own as he took the pistol in his hand. In the space of a single blink—really, that’s all it took—he pulled back what appeared to be another trigger on top of the gun and fired it.
Sophia started at the awesome force of it, the sound so loud that for several seconds afterward she couldn’t hear much of anything. A cloud of singed smoke enveloped them, and in the fog Sophia felt the floor beneath her feet vibrate with a single, distinct thud.
The intruder had fallen.
Behind her Mr. Hope was shouting, and La Reinette was shouting back from somewhere in the chamber. Their voices were curiously faint.
And then she and Hope were running, her legs moving as if through water; they were at once heavy and weightless, taking her out of Madame’s chamber, through the gallery, and down a narrow, winding stair hidden behind an iron balustrade.
Sophia looked down to see her hand clasped firmly in Mr. Hope’s. She looked up to see the gleaming line of his jaw twitch with murderous intent, his dark curls wild around the inviting curve of his ear.
Behind them came the sound of heavy footsteps. One or both of those dreadful Frenchmen were still in pursuit.
Hope increased his pace without looking back, tugging Sophia along behind him. Her heart knocked painfully against her lungs, her every muscle begging her to stop the assault.
Just when she thought she might collapse, they stumbled through an unfamiliar door and out onto a dark lane that stank of refuse and horse manure. The night was close and complete here; Sophia found it difficult to breathe.
“This way!” Hope skidded on the gravel around a corner and broke into an all-out sprint. He glanced back at Sophia, his blue eyes translucent in the darkness.
“Not,” he panted, “much. Farther.”
She began to fall back, and felt herself become a weight on Mr. Hope’s arm. Dear God, she was going to collapse. The air was too thick, her legs too heavy.
But then the sound of hurried footsteps again broke out behind them. Her panic propelled her forward, her gait pulling her in line with Hope.
Together they skidded around another corner and drew up before the dark shadow of an unmarked coach. Tendrils of smoke rose from its recently extinguished lamps.
“Get in!” a man called from the coachman’s bench. He snapped the reins, and the horses began to move, leading the carriage out into the lane.
Hope reached for the carriage door and pried it open, trotting beside the vehicle as it quickened pace.
“You. First,” he said to Sophia. He pulled her against him and looped his palms through her underarms. “Pull. And I. Will push!”
Sophia reached for the carriage and managed to grasp either side of the door opening. Gritting her teeth against the pain of her exertion, she pulled with what was left of her strength. The force of Hope’s push knocked her breathless as she somersaulted into the coach.
Somewhere in the back of her mind she knew her ungainly leap had exposed a goodly bit of thigh, and probably more than that. But such virginal considerations seemed to hardly signify in the face of pistols and feral Frenchmen.
She didn’t know why any of this was happening, or where the carriage would take her. But this was just the sort of adventure that she so admired in La Reinette’s tales, and if such adventure involved nudity, then so be it.
By now the horses were in an all-out gallop, the carriage heaving violently behind them. Sophia scrambled to her feet and reached out for Hope. He took her hands and with an ungainly leap fell into the coach, his legs dangling out the open door.
When at last she managed to wiggle the rest of his great bulk into the carriage, Sophia collapsed on the floor, gasping for air. Mr. Hope rose to his knees as he reached for the door, which was swinging wildly in time to the coach’s erratic movement.
“Who the devil. Was that?” Mr. Hope called out the open door.
“Who the devil is she?” came the coachman’s shout.
Mr. Hope slammed the door shut in reply, and with a tremendous sigh fell heavily on the ground beside Sophia.
Shoulder to shoulder, they sat together gasping for several beats.
“Oh. Miss Blaise.” Hope turned his head to look at her. “You visited La. Reinette on the wrong. Night I’m. Afraid.”
Sophia glanced up to meet his eyes. Those eyes. He was looking at her closely, carefully. With great interest.
Looking at her like no one—man or woman, save perhaps her dearest mama—had ever looked at her before.
She quickly looked away, focusing her gaze on her lap. A moment ago she believed her heart beat as quickly and as vigorously as it could as she ran side by side with Hope from The Glossy.
Now she knew differently. It seemed with his gaze alone, Mr. Hope could very well coax her heart to explode from the prison of her ribs.
She swallowed. Hard.
“Is this what you do every Wednesday night?” She smiled into her lap. “If I had known bankers lived such exciting lives I would’ve angled to become one myself.”
Mr. Hope paused, taken aback by her words; and then he laughed, laughed and put his hand on her knee. “Oh. Miss Blaise,” he said again. “If I experienced such excitement every Wednesday, I daresay I’d be dead.”
Sophia stared at his hand in the darkness, feeling the warmth of his fingers through the thin muslin of her gown. They were handsome fingers, broad but well kept and elegant, capable-looking, just like the rest of him.
She felt the heat rising to her cheeks. So much touching. It made her want to reach out and touch him back, to feel the heat of someone else’s thrill beneath her palm.
Mr. Hope must have noticed, for he cleared his throat and pulled his hand away.
Sophia shifted uncomfortably as a beat of awkward silence stretched between them. She let her head fall back against the side of the coach, and tried not to wince as they clattered over a particularly jarring bump.
“You mustn’t tell anyone,” she said, closing her eyes. “Everything. Anything. I know Violet trusts you, but—”
“You have my word, Miss Blaise. I daresay I must ask the same courtesy of you. You see, I don’t usually—”
The carriage lurched; suddenly the pounding of hooves, not far behind, filled the night.
The Frenchman was back, and in hot pursuit on horseback. Sophia’s blood ran cold at the memory of his greedy eyes peeking over the debris of the plasterwork.
“Bloody hell.” Hope rose into a seat and carefully pulled Sophia up beside him as the carriage bumped and jostled them against one another. He pounded the ceiling with his fist. “He’s back!”
“I see that!” the coachman replied.
As if on cue, the rider appeared by the window at Sophia’s side. She could see the gleam of his teeth as he grinned at her, holding the reins in one hand while in the other he brandished a pistol—Hope’s pistol.
Sophia screamed. She heard the discharge of the gun just as the carriage jerked forward, Mr. Hope pressing her head into his lap. The window shattered and there was a great, billowing sound, like close thunder.
She managed to glance up at Mr. Hope. He was grinning. “He missed!” he shouted.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for the Hope Diamond Trilogy
“The fabled Hope Diamond is the centerpiece of Peterson’s charming trilogy, where she mixes one very bad-boy gentleman with a headstrong heroine, a stolen gem, a duel, a band of acrobats and an exiled French king…[Peterson] keeps the pace flying and readers hanging onto their utter joy.”—RT Book Reviews (4 Stars)
"Deliciously fun! What a lovely, witty book - I can't wait to see what Jessica Peterson does next!"—Kate Noble, author of If I Fall
"Sexy and sparkling with wit, The Gentleman Jewel Thief overflows with adventure, suspense, and fast-paced action. Jessica Peterson is a fresh, new voice in historical romance."—Shana Galen, author of The Spy Wore Blue
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
***Review posted on The Eater of Books! blog*** The Millionaire Rogue by Jessica Peterson Book Two of the Hope Diamond trilogy Publisher: Berkley Publication Date: January 6, 2015 Rating: 4 stars Source: ARC sent by the author ***Warning: this is an adult book, and for the eyes of mature readers*** Summary (from Goodreads): In an age of stately decorum, the Hope Diamond was a source of delicious intrigue—and a font of unimaginable adventure… Though not of noble birth, Thomas Hope has a skill in banking that’s made him one of the richest, most trusted men in London. Still, he keeps his dubious past hidden. So when an old acquaintance calls on Hope to help acquire the infamous French Blue Diamond, he’s desperate to be discreet. He never expects that his biggest concern shouldn’t be losing his reputation, but his heart… Sophia Blaise is determined to make a brilliant match with this season’s most eligible, most titled bachelor, but her true passion has been ignited by the incredible stories she hears while secretly transcribing the memoirs of a notorious Madam. After a night of clandestine writing ends with Sophia caught up in a scandalous adventure of her own—with an alluring banker—she begins to question whether she’s suited to the proper life she’s always known… Caught up in a thrilling exploit and unexpected romance, Sophia must make a choice between what her head knows is safe and what her heart desperately desires, before both slip from her grasp forever… What I Liked: First, my thanks to the author, who contacted me directly to see if I would review her book. I've been taking little to no review requests for the better part of this year, but this request caught my attention. The author was very kind and professional, and expected nothing less than an honest review. Me enjoying the book was an added bonus! What a lovely historical romance novel this was! I've not read this author debut novel, so I was not quite familiar with this book (or series, or even author). I'm glad it didn't fly under my radar - I'm always looking for new historical romance authors. Definitely adding Peterson to the list! Thomas Hope has his sights set on the French Blue, a large diamond that is currently in the hands of the Princess of Wales. Fate would have him and Sophia Blaise pair up to obtain the diamond from the Princess... only for the diamond to be stolen at a ball. Sophia, Thomas, and several other important people work together to get the diamond back into the right hands. It doesn't seem like this book is a romance novel at all, does it? No scandalously revealing cover, only one person on the cover, fully clothed, no sexy title, and once you read the book... the plot is so involved in the mystery and the hunt for the diamond. Don't get me wrong, the romance is alive and present and totally sizzling. But the mystery, the whodunit, seems to eclipse the romance, which I really liked! I really liked Thomas Hope. He's an untitled gentleman, a banker who did really well for himself. He's not a scoundrel or a seducer, and he's a tiny bit awkward under all that healthy macho manliness. I like him a lot! He feels like he doesn't deserve a lady like Sophia, because he's just a banker, but he's so wrong - he's quite the catch. I also really liked Sophia. She's very bold and brazen in a reserved way. Like, she's so used to a snobby life, to the expectation that she will marry a rich, titled man, and live in a castle on a hill. But she wants passion and color in life, and not a dull, boring existence. I liked Sophia. She didn't fight her attraction for Thomas at all, despite being a debutante (and therefore, a virgin). Ooo, the romance. Thomas and Sophia sizzle right off the page, despite Thomas avoiding women for some time now, and Sophia being a virgin. The two of them click instantly, at least physically. Sophia has Thomas wrapped around her finger by the end of the book, even though she convinces herself that that isn't what she wants. She should do her daughterly duty, right... The mystery was pretty interesting, and it took up much of the book. At first I thought things were a little overwhelming, like there were a lot of little things going on. But as I kept reading, I could see how the subplots intersected with the main plots. The ending was really nice - everything wrapped up nicely, almost too neatly, but I liked it. I liked how the author left things with Thomas and Sophia, as well as with the French Blue. I was definitely sucked into the mystery, and didn't see it coming from early on, which is always a plus with a good mystery! What I Did Not Like: The only thing that really stuck out to me was the constant switching of how the author referred to Thomas Hope - not in the dialogue. It varied from "Hope", to "Mr. Hope" to "Thomas"... sometimes on the same page, we would see at least two of those. I'm used to a sort of consistency with names/titles/etc., so I was hoping that this would be more consistent. This wasn't a problem with Sophia - she was always "Sophia" in the exposition, and not "Miss Blaise" or something. Other than that, no serious complaints! Would I Recommend It: This is definitely a smart, interesting historical romance with a sizzling romance! It's hard to find that combination in historical romance novels. A lot of them are heavily romance-driven (which is great!), but I like the ones that deviate from this expectation. So, yes, I would recommend this novel! Rating: 4 stars. An excellent novel by this rising historical romance author! I definitely hope to catch the next book in this series - especially after previewing the story in the back of this ARC! I'm intrigued by Peterson's choice of characters for the next book... though I can't say I'm surprised.
After the first madcap adventure featuring the Hope Diamond and a daring thief, I was eager to give the second book telling the story of Thomas Hope himself a go. I've always enjoyed it when an author daringly writes a fictional story allowing real life characters some page time. In this case, it’s not a serious historical fiction, but a fun, passionate historical romantic romp. I had a good time with Thomas and his intrepid heroine, Sophia (already a point in her favor b/c of the name). This second book in the series could be read out of order as the pertinent stuff needed to get what is going on is present, but...yes but. This story is told parallel to the first book so it makes a whole lot more sense when they are read in order because the reader would always feel like they were missing stuff that is going on off stage. The story opens with Thomas Hope, successful banker to England's elite, being paid a clandestine call by a man he hasn't seen in years. Henry Beaton Lake, espionage agent for the crown, has a mission that only Thomas can do. Hope argues that he is done with all that, but gets dragged back into the Game for King and Country. His task is to convince the Princess Charlotte to sell a large unique blue diamond known as the French Blue. The gem once belonged to the French royal family, is thought to be cursed and is now a viable bargaining chip wit Napoleon. Unfortunately, other agents are at work and he is driven to seek asylum with an old partner who he interrupts meeting with the last person Hope expects to see. Innocent miss and debutante, Sophia Blaise, is sitting in the parlor of one of the most successful courtesans there is. Sophia knows the danger of the secret life she lives as the biographer to such an infamous woman and so the arrival of her family's banker while she works on edits with La Reinette is most unwelcome. Suddenly she is in the adventure that she always dreamed about, but it is nothing like she imagined. Hiding in a secret closet with Mr. Hope, running with him for their lives, helping dupe the Princess and then helping to search for the stolen French Blue alongside a man who puts all the other men, including the very eligible wealthy marquess she plans to marry, to shame. Does she choose with her heart or with her head? Thomas is frantic to get the stolen diamond back before the gossip gets out, his clients mistrust his ability to watch over their wealth, and he is ruined not to mention the Crown loses a good bargaining tool with Napoleon. With the help of an unlikely crew, they track down the thief only to discover that all is not so simple. Other parties want the gem and will stop at nothing to obtain it. Thomas wants Sophia to stay out of the excitement and thus out of danger, but she refuses. It breaks his heart to see her, love all that he has come to know about her, and yet know that he can never have her because she is determined to marry nobility and wealth. Alright, so this story has a lot of excitement, intrigue, passion, and mad-cap ways to it. The pacing was good and it never dragged. There was a lot going on, but not to the point of crazy confusion. Again, I had no trouble because I read the parallel story that goes on at the same time and crosses through this one often. Not sure I liked the distraction of the two stories running side by side, but it wasn't a big deal either. I had a good time for the most part. I liked the characters, the plot, the pacing, the light tone, but I was only mildly into it. I struggled with the match up in this one. I have weird kick ups like this once in a while and whole-heartedly admit that this issue is on me. I have nothing really against the characters and liked them as individuals and would even accept them as affectionate friends, but as lovers they didn't work for me. I have a hard time seeing an older mature man with a young fresh out in society young lady so it’s tricky to sell me on it. Sophia was a nice an sensible girl and she has an adventurous streak that leads her to writing a courtesan's memoirs and demanding to be part of the dangerous hunt for the jewel. However, this did not make me find her a good pairing for a man of Thomas Hope's experiences and depth. I actually saw Thomas better suited to his former espionage partner, Le Reinette, who had lived such a full, rich life too. I found her so much more fascinating a character and she dominated those early scenes putting debutante Sophia into the shadows. While, on the other hand, I totally could see Sophia with the adorable marquess that was courting her. They had so much more in common and felt more connected. So a little swapping around and I'd be content, but I get that it doesn't work that way. The barrier to the romance didn't really do it for me either. They love each other, but the only barrier is Sophia's insistence that she needs to marry a wealthy aristocrat even after admitting that Thomas lights up her world, he is constantly in her thoughts, and the passion they share is off the hook. He's a wealthy banker so not a step up, but he is accepted in Society as much more than a tradesman so he's not exactly a step down either. Yeah, I just got impatient with her and wanted to bop some sense into her. Looking ahead, there is another story line that has simmered in the background through book one and into this one. Henry Beaton Lake, Hope's spy friend, and Lady Caroline, another background character have bristled up at each other and given off serious sparks all along. There is something between the two of them and some of the explanation finally comes out in this one. I really want their story so I was thrilled to discover that theirs will be the final book in the trilogy. It ought to be a real humdinger. All in all, it was fun and entertaining story. I like the author's playful style that still offers a good adventure and some passion. I would recommend this book to historical romance fans who like their stories more of spicy romance and madcap adventure. My thanks to Penguin Group and to Net Galley for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
I won an ARC of this book and hope you will consider buying it. This is the second book of a connected trilogy and it is better than the first. Jessica Peterson is a new author and deserves to be read. This trilogy is about 3 couples finding each other after a theft in the first book. The books are not sequels, but take place at the same time from each couple's perspective. I look forward to the third one later this year. (I do not write plot spoilers.) This is a fun read!