"The pace is lively, the sexual tension palpable and the love story perfectly delightful. Fun and touching, this magical read is a keeper." RT Book Reviews, 4 1/2 Stars, Top Pick!
Everyone warned Lady Susanna about Gideon, but where has playing by the rules ever gotten her? Enticed by his "no compromises" approach to life, Susanna follows Gideon into London's dark underworld. When excitement turns to danger, Susanna must decide what price she's willing to pay...for the love of a reformed thief.
Gideon Harrow has spent his life in London's dark underworldand he wants out. A thief and a con, he plans one last heist to finally win his freedom. But when everything goes wrong, he finds himself at the tender mercies of one of Society's most untouchable womenLady Susanna Derring
Susanna has spent her life in London's glittering ton, under the thumb of a domineering motherand she wants out. When a wickedly charming rogue lands at her feet, she jumps at the chance to experience life before it's too late. But as she descends into London's underworld, she finds that nothing not even Gideonis as it seems. As excitement turns to danger, Susanna must decide what price she's willing to pay...for the love of a reformed thief.
Covent Garden Cubs Series:
Earls Just Want to Have Fun (Book 1)
The Rogue You Know (Book 2)
I Kissed a Rogue (Book 3)
Praise for Love and Let Spy, an RT Book Reviews Top Pick:
"Splendid... an absolutely sublime love story... infused with beautiful, tender, and touching moments." Fresh Fiction
"An utterly wonderful historical romance." Books of Love
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
"Sit up straight," the Dowager Countess of Dane hissed at her daughter before turning back to their hostess and smiling stiffly as the marchioness prattled on about bonnet styles this season.
Lady Susanna straightened in her uncomfortable chair. She was wilting in the heat that all the ladies had already remarked upon as being unseasonably warm for June. Susanna fluttered her fan and tried to take an interest in the conversation, but she didn't care about hats. She didn't care about garden parties. She didn't care about finding a husband. If her mother ever heard Susanna admit husband hunting was not her favorite pursuit, she would lock Susanna in her room for days.
Susanna did not mind being locked in her room as much as her mother seemed to think. In her room, she could lose herself in her drawing. She could bring out her pencil or watercolors and sketch until her hand cramped. Sketching was infinitely preferable to spending hours embroidering in the drawing room, listening to her mother's lectures on decorum and etiquette.
Susanna did not need to be told how to behave. She had been raised to be a perfectly proper young lady. She was the daughter of an earl. She knew what was expected of her.
One: She must marry well.
Two: She must at all times exhibit good ton.
Three: She must be accomplished, beautiful, fashionable, and witty.
That third expectation was daunting indeed.
Susanna had spent two decades playing the perfect earl's daughter. She'd had little choice. If she rebelled, even minutely, her mother quickly put her back in her place. At the moment, Susanna wished her place were anywhere but here. She sympathized with her failed sketches, feeling as though it were she tossed in the hearth and browning in the fire. She burned slowly, torturously, gasping for her last breath.
Could no one see she was dying inside? Around her, ladies smiled and laughed and sipped tea. Susanna would not survive much longer.
And no one cared.
Ladies of the ton were far too concerned with themselves-what were they speaking of now? Haberdashery?-to notice she was smothering under the weight of the heat, the endless cups of tea, the tinny politeness of the ladies' laughs, and the interminable talk of bonnets. If she were to sketch her life, she would draw a single horizontal line extending into forever.
Susanna stifled the rising scream-afraid she might wail aloud for once, rather than shriek silently and endlessly. Before she could reconsider what she planned, she gained her feet. She wobbled, shaking with uncertainty and fear, but she must escape or go quietly mad.
Lady Dane cut her a look as pointed as a sharpened blade. "Do sit down, Susanna."
"E-excuse me," Susanna murmured.
"What are you doing?"
Susanna staggered under the weight of the stares from the half-dozen women in their circle. She had not thought it possible to feel any heavier, but the addition of the women's cool gazes on her made her back bow.
"Excuse me. I need to find-"
"Oh, do cease mumbling." Lady Dane sounded remarkably like a dog barking when she issued orders. "You know I hate it when you mumble."
"I'm sorry. I need to-"
"Go ahead, my dear," their hostess said. "One of the footmen will show you the way."
Susanna's burst of freedom was short-lived. She'd no more than moved away from her chair when her mother rose to join her. Susanna choked back a small sob. There really was no escape.
"Could you not at least wait until we had finished our conversation?" Lady Dane complained, as though Susanna's physical needs were the most inconvenient thing in the world.
"I'm sorry, Mama."
"Why don't you stay, Dorothea?" the marchioness asked. "Surely Lady Susanna can find her way to the retiring room by herself."
Susanna's gaze locked on her mother's. Inside, she squirmed like one of the insects her brothers used to pin for their collections. Lady Dane would most certainly defy the marchioness. She would never let her disappointing daughter out of her sight.
Susanna had one glimmer of hope. Her brother's scandalous marriage a few weeks ago had noticeably thinned the pile of invitations the Danes received. The family was not shunned exactly, but they had spent more nights at home than the debutante daughter of an earl should.
Not that she minded.
Her mother patted Susanna on the arm, the stinging pinch delivered under cover of affection.
"Do not dawdle."
Susanna need not be cut free twice. She practically ran for the house.
"She is perfectly safe here." The marchioness's voice carried across the lawn. "I understand why you play the hawk. She must make a good match, and the sooner the better."
The sooner she escaped this garden party, the better. Every group of ladies she passed bestowed snakelike smiles before raising their fans and whispering. Sometimes the whispers weren't even whispered.
"Dane introduced a bill to establish a central police force! What next? Gendarmes?"
A few steps more.
"I heard her brother began a soup kitchen."
"St. Giles! Can you imagine?"
Susanna ducked into the cool darkness of the town house and flattened herself against the wall. She closed her eyes, swiping at the stinging tears. Breathe, breathe. Free from the whispers-that-were-not-whispers and the stares and, best of all, her mother, she slouched in smug rebellion.
"May I be of assistance, my lady?"
Susanna's spine went rigid, and she opened her eyes. A footman bestowed a bemused smile on her. She imagined it was not every day a lady ran away from the marchioness's garden party and collapsed in relief.
"The ladies' retiring room. Could you direct me?"
"This way, Lady Susanna."
She followed him through well-appointed though cold, impersonal rooms until she reached a small room filled with plants, several chairs, two small hand mirrors on stands, a pitcher of fresh water and basin, and screens for privacy. Susanna stepped inside and closed the door. Finally alone. She straightened her white muslin gown with the blue sash at the high waist. Her hat sported matching ribbons. She might have removed it if it would not have been so much trouble to pin in place again. At the basin, she splashed water into the bowl and dabbed at her face. One look in the mirror showed that her cheeks were flushed and her brown eyes too bright. She had the typical coloring of a strawberry blond, and her pale skin reddened easily.
In the mirror, she spotted something move, and a woman in a large, elaborately plumed hat emerged from behind the screen. Susanna's heart sank.
She willed the woman to return to the party quickly and leave her to her solitude. The screens provided a convenient shield.
"You are Lady Susanna, are you not?"
There would be no hiding. The urge to crumple into a ball on the floor almost overwhelmed her, but she was the daughter of an earl. Susanna pushed her shoulders back.
"Yes, I am. I'm sorry. I don't believe we've met."
The woman patted her perfect coiffure, which was tucked neatly under her hat, and poured water from the ewer over her hands. "I am Lady Winthorpe."
The countess's face brightened with amusement. "I see you have heard of me. Do not worry. All of my children have married." She bent, baring her teeth in the mirror and examining them closely. "I cannot tell you what a relief it is not to have to push them at every titled man or woman in Town. I imagine your poor mother is at her wits' end."
Heat rushed into Susanna's face, and her cheeks reddened most unbecomingly. Dane's marriage was indeed scandalous, and because it was, no one mentioned it to her.
"I..." Her tongue lay thick and clumsy in her mouth.
"What came over the earl?" the countess asked, patting the yellow and white plumes of her hat, which matched her gown. "Why would he make such a poor match?"
The countess turned to stare directly at Susanna.
"Lady Elizabeth is the daughter of the Marquess of Lyndon." She'd said it so often it had become a chant.
The countess flicked open her fan and wafted it. Painted on the fan was an image of a peacock with its feathers spread. "Lady Elizabeth was raised in a rookery as a thief. Even being the daughter of a marquess cannot redeem her."
She would not shrink. Susanna forced iron into her spine. "My brother loves her. That is enough for me."
"Love. How sweet."
The fan snapped closed, and the countess tapped Susanna's arm with it. "What does your mother think of this profession of love?"
"I-" Susanna had no idea. She'd never once heard her mother speak the word love, although she railed against her eldest son's mésalliance often enough.
"She was in love once. Did she ever tell you that?"
Susanna dared not open her mouth for fear she would only babble. Were they still speaking of the Dowager Countess of Dane? Surely, she had never been in love. Her mother did not know the meaning of the word. But perhaps Lady Winthorpe spoke of Susanna's late father. He had not exactly doted on his children either, especially not on her. But the countess might have mistaken the late earl's marriage for a love match.
"My father and mother-"
The countess waved the fan, narrowly missing Susanna's chin.
"I do not refer to your mother's marriage. She married him for the title and the money, I imagine. Your mother is no fool. But there were days, in our youth, when I thought she might choose another course." The woman's blue eyes had become so unfocused as to look gray. "Handsome young beaux. Picnics in Hyde Park. Nights at Vauxhall Gardens. Long, dark nights." She winked at Susanna, and Susanna flinched with shock.
The implication...or was it an insinuation...or an intimation...?
The countess was not to be believed.
"I don't know what you mean."
"No, I see that you don't. In any case, your mother made her choice." The woman's eyes, blue again, narrowed.
The countess stared at her so intently, Susanna actually took a step back.
The countess tapped her chin with the edge of the fan. "I wonder..."
Susanna held her breath, leaning forward to hear each and every syllable. All for naught. The woman didn't continue. The long silence, coupled with her curiosity, compelled Susanna to prompt Lady Winthorpe.
Voices rose and fell outside the door, and Susanna emitted a weak cry of protest. The door opened, revealing two young women speaking quietly to each other. One look at Susanna and their conversation ceased. The girls shared a look before they disappeared behind the screen and dissolved into giggles. Susanna toed the pale pink carpet with her slipper.
"Good day to you," the countess said, opening the door and stepping out into the music room.
Susanna stood rooted in place with the giggles behind her and questions swirling like dust motes in her mind. She should not pry further, but she was always doing as she ought. Her slipper dug into the rug, attacking the threads viciously. She caught the door before it could close all the way. The countess whirled when Susanna emerged behind her, and Susanna took advantage of the woman's surprise.
"I cannot help but ask, my lady. What do you wonder?"
"I think I had better not answer that." She spoke slowly, enunciating every word. Weighing each one against her tongue before speaking it. "Your mother would not thank me."
And there was that look again-the pitiful look one gave a pinned insect.
"But I see you, Lady Susanna, with that hair and that nose, and I do wonder." She sauntered across the music room. "Yes, I do."
Susanna touched her hair and her nose. What of them? Did the countess mean to deliberately confuse her?
Susanna crumpled onto the piano stool. She'd used every last ounce of bravery in the failed attempt to wheedle information. At this point, bravery hardly mattered. Chasing the countess was not an option, least of all because it would mean returning to the garden party.
Neither did she wish to return to the retiring room.
She wandered to a harp and plucked at one of the strings, feeling the thick wires vibrate through her gloves. She'd always wanted to play the harp, but her mother had not allowed her to learn. Sitting with the instrument between her legs was unseemly. Susanna plucked another string, enjoying the light, airy sound of it.
What had the Countess of Winthorpe meant about her mother being in love? Had her mother fallen in love with a man before she met Susanna's father? A man her mother met at Hyde Park...no, not Hyde Park. Hyde Park was fashionable, the place to see and be seen. The sunny breezes of Hyde Park chased away any scandal.
But dark, sensuous Vauxhall Gardens...
Susanna had never been. Her mother would not permit it. Her brothers had undoubtedly visited, but Susanna did not possess their freedom.
She should ask her mother what Lady Winthorpe meant. Her mother's reaction might provide some clue. Of course, her mother might also tell her it was none of her concern, but Susanna was twenty now and would certainly marry in the next year. Lady Dane might relish the opportunity to share stories of her own days as a young debutante.
Susanna almost laughed aloud. Her mother relished nothing except ordering Susanna to sit still and stop slouching. Perhaps she might ask her new sister to take her. Marlowe had promised Susanna an adventure as the forfeit for losing a wager. Susanna would have dearly loved an adventure.
Her mother would never allow it, of course. Proper girls did not run away on adventures. Sometimes Susanna was so weary of acting properly.
The door of the music room swung open, and Lady Litton entered, shutting the door quickly behind her. She was a few years older than Susanna and had become betrothed after her first Season. She'd already given the viscount she'd married two healthy sons.
Susanna rose, and the viscountess, sensing the movement, spun around.
"Oh, it's you," she said with a dismissive wave. "Run back to your mama. She will be wanting you to laugh at her bon mots."
"My mother does not make bon mots." Clearly the woman did not know Lady Dane.
Even clearer was Susanna's mistake in speaking out. Lady Litton's dark eyebrows slashed together, and the ribbon of her pink lips thinned further.
"That was not my point."
No. Her point had been to encourage Susanna to run away. Undoubtedly, Lady Litton had a rendezvous with a friend or lover planned in this room. Though Susanna did not know who that could be, as this was a ladies' garden party. For a brief moment, Susanna wished she had simply run away.
But then something made her square her shoulders. Perhaps it was the thought of adventure. Perhaps she was still locked in her fantasy of Vauxhall, still imagining she could be someone else on those dark walks.
Someone brave and interesting and desirable.
"Why don't you run back to your mama?" Susanna said, surprising herself when the words from her thoughts came out of her mouth. "I am using this room at present."
"Then use another." Lady Litton advanced, her parasol held before her like a weapon.
Susanna's legs threatened to bolt for the exit, but she stood firm, even though she shook inside.
"You use another."
Lady Litton's eyes widened. Then she smiled, a very snide sort of smile. "Oh, I see. Your new sister has been influencing you. Tell me, Lady Susanna, what is next? Will you pick pockets and raise your skirts for every man in a dark alley?"
Susanna's arm rose without her permission, and her hand made loud contact with Lady Litton's cheek. A flower of red bloomed on the viscountess's pale skin, and with a look of shocked horror in her eyes, she raised her hand to the offending mark.
Susanna thought the look must have mirrored her own. What had she done?
What if her mother found out?
She opened her mouth to apologize, but Lady Litton shrieked before Susanna had a chance.
"You little bitch! Now look what you've done!"
As Susanna stared in silent amazement, a tear slid down Lady Litton's cheek.
"If you want the room, then take it." The viscountess stomped away in a flurry of skirts and flounces, her hand still on her abused skin.
Susanna stared after her until the door slammed, then looked down at her hand, still stinging with the force of the slap.
Perhaps she was not as much of a coward as she'd thought.
And perhaps now was the perfect time for that adventure.
* * *
Gideon stood in the Golden Gallery in the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral. All of London sprawled before him. The sun set on the River Thames, clogged with ships of all sizes and shapes. The forest of masts jutted from the foul, murky water like dead tree branches in winter. Just beyond, the soot-blackened buildings of London were crammed together as though huddled in fear. The day was hot and the streets teeming with short-tempered people jostling their way through the throngs. Peddlers pushed carts, children chased dogs, and horses pulled rattlers. The noise on the streets deafened him at times.
High above it all, blissful silence reigned. The wind whooshed in his ears and ruffled his hair.
"I could get used to a view like this," Gideon said, spreading his arms like a king surveying his kingdom. He breathed deeply for effect, as the air up here wasn't much cleaner than that on the streets. "Smell that fresh air. The wind in my hair. This is the life."
But even in the heavens, he found only temporary escape from the world below.
Beezle stood just behind him, his gaze as dark as the dirt under his fingernails.
"You do the trick, and you can have any life you want," Beezle said quietly. With Satin dead, Beezle was the new arch rogue of the Covent Garden Cubs. Gideon had tried to distance himself from the gang since then, but old habits were hard to break. That, and Beezle was none too willing to allow one of his best rooks to walk away.
Reluctantly, Gideon abandoned the indigo-and-orange skies of London. "I pinch the necklace, and I never have to see your ugly mug again?"
"And here I thought it was the blunt you were after. A hundred yellow boys will make you rich as a gentry cove."
"The necklace is worth ten times that."
"The necklace is mine, and I choose to let you in on the game. Do we row in the same boat, Gideon?"
He didn't want to row in Beezle's boat. Hell, he didn't want to be in the same ocean as the arch rogue, but this was his chance. The blunt from this job would allow him to walk away from rooking. He could be his own man, start over in a new place, with a new name. Be whomever he wanted.
He'd never make it out of London without first lining his pockets. It took guineas to start over, and that's where Beezle came in.
Gideon rocked back on his heels, imitating the swells who had all the money and time in the world.
Beezle waited. His expression remained hooded, but Gideon would have bet a shilling-if he'd had one-the arch rogue chafed at being made to wait. They were of a similar height-he and Beezle-and both had dark hair. That was where the similarities ended. Beezle had a narrow, birdlike face perpetually twisted into a malevolent expression. Gideon liked to think of himself as a rum duke. He bore no one ill will and was generally good-natured.
Gideon held out a hand, offering it to the devil.
Beezle's icy fingers wrapped around his flesh, and Gideon's belly clenched in revulsion.
"Let's do the trick," Gideon said.
After that it was a simple matter to make their way to Mother Cummings's house at Six George Street. Mother Cummings rented rooms for as little as a shilling, but it was a bawdy house as well as a front for fencing goods. The molls' game was to lure a man into bed-the more foxed the better-then purloin his property and make a run for it. Then everyone in the house would claim never to have heard of the moll who'd filched the goods. At the first opportunity, Mother Cummings was sure to fence it. If anyone was likely to have cargo of real value in St. Giles, it was Mother Cummings.
Mother Cummings had dozens of hidey-holes for the goods she acquired. Gideon had either seen or heard of most of them since he'd fenced cargo through Mother Cummings a hundred times or more before he'd joined the Covent Garden Cubs. Gideon's job was to find where the necklace was hidden, filch it, and hand it over to Beezle. Beezle would fence it himself and give Gideon a hundred guineas.
A hundred yellow boys was more money than Gideon could even imagine, but he didn't want to start thinking about the blunt before he did the job. He would be a thief in a house full of thieves. He couldn't afford distractions.
Of one mind, Beezle and Gideon paused outside a gin shop on George Street, just across from Number Six. No one paid them any attention as they took careful note of the comings and goings at Mother Cummings's. A steady stream of men filed in and out. Gideon would be all but invisible in the public rooms.
"You coming in?" Gideon asked after a quarter of an hour passed.
Beezle's small eyes never left the door across George Street. "I'll wait here for the drop."
Gideon had been counting on that. He gave a casual shrug. "Suit yourself."
He started away, but Beezle gripped his shoulder with hard, bony fingers. "Don't even think about double-crossing me, Gideon. Racer and Stub are keeping watch in the back. Get the necklace. Give it to me. If you even think about keeping it, I'll smash you myself."
Gideon spread his arms in mock indignation. "Take the necklace for myself? Would I do that?"
Beezle dug his fingers painfully into Gideon's shoulder.
Gideon covered his heart with a hand. "You don't trust me. That hurts, Beezle." He tapped his chest. "Right here."
Beezle's grip slackened, but his expression remained deadly. Gideon missed Satin. The old arch rogue was quick to cuff the cubs, but he was also quick with a grin. Gideon had usually been able to make him laugh.
"Get the necklace," Beezle said.
"Work, work, work." Gideon rotated his shoulder, shrugging off Beezle's hand. "Be right back."
"You'd better be."
The interior of Mother Cummings's house was as Gideon remembered. The well-worn stairs led to the drawing room where molls plied men with gin, then coaxed them to nearby bedrooms. The rooms for rent were on the second floor, and the ground floor was for dining and business. Mother Cummings was rarely in residence after two in the afternoon, so if a rook wanted to fence something, he learned to come in the morning.
It was a long time until morning, so Gideon should have plenty of time to search.
A large woman with a red face and bruised knuckles pointed upstairs. "All the rooms are rented, but go upstairs and find a rum blowen to entertain you."
Mother Cummings was no fool. She had a guard on the first floor. Gideon had counted on at least one sentry. Upstairs, he made a pass through the drawing room, peeling the molls off when they tried to persuade him to sit or drink. Finally, he slipped back out and headed past the closed bedroom doors until he reached the servants' stairs. He shut the door behind him and started down them, only to topple over a young mort sitting on one of the steps with a bottle of Blue Ruin.
She looked up at him with bleary, red eyes. "Shh. Don't tell."
"It's our secret." Gideon pressed a finger to his lips. He moved around her and cracked the door on the first floor, peering out. The entry was just a few feet away, where the guard woman growled at a young man. Mother Cummings's library-if a room with no books could be called such-was across from him. That library was the most likely hidey-hole for the necklace.
Gideon slid across the corridor and lifted the library door latch.
The door didn't open.
He cursed under his breath and, with a quick glance at the guard, retrieved a dub from his coat pocket. With slow, steady movements born from years of practice, he slid the tool into the lock and maneuvered it about until he felt it snap into place. His gaze never wavered from the guard. If she saw him now, he was stone dead.
A group of coves came in, but they were looking up the stairs, thinking about what lay ahead. They had no reason to note a man standing near a door by the servants' stairs.
He twisted his wrist, hearing the lock click. The sound was deafening in his ears, but the guard dog didn't turn. Withdrawing the dub, Gideon slipped it back into his coat, turned the handle, and slithered into the dark library.
Gideon felt his way toward a window and tossed several gowns draped over it onto the floor, allowing more light inside. He was met by a dozen haphazard piles of random treasures. Silk handkerchiefs lay on top of a table beside slabs of cheese and bacon. Brass knobs and shutters shared space with a mound of ladies' petticoats, hats, and shoes. In the corner, a duck quacked. Stacked beside the creature's cage were pails and coal scuttles. Gideon scanned the larger items, noting a tall chest in one corner. He crossed to it quickly, opening drawers and feeling inside for the contents-lead, glass bottles, a mirror, brushes...no baubles.
He tried another drawer and another until they'd all been searched. Perhaps she kept the necklace elsewhere. A parlor? The dining room? It could be anywhere, but this was the only room he'd never seen anyone but Mother Cummings enter. If the necklace was in the house, it must be in the library. A valuable necklace like that: Would she have left it here? It was widely known that Mother Cummings didn't live at Six George Street. Maybe she'd taken the necklace to her other home to keep it safe until she found a buyer.
Gideon scanned the room again, looking for a hiding spot, something he'd overlooked. The necklace had to be here. If it wasn't, his future was as lost as a pamphlet thrown into a fire.
He couldn't allow that to happen. He couldn't spend the rest of his life diving into pockets or cracking houses. He wanted out.
He leaned against the cold hearth and tapped his hands against his thighs as he meticulously studied every spot in the room. He had to be missing something. Why hadn't he found any ladies' fal-lals? Not a ring, not even an earbob. His foot kicked back, hitting the grate in the hearth, and he pulled his boot forward before the ash could coat it. But when he looked down, he didn't see any ash.
Gideon crouched and stroked his fingers over the grate.
No sign of wood or coal in the hearth. That was interesting. Even in summer, these houses were drafty. Surely Mother Cummings would want a warm fire while she inventoried her treasures. Gideon wished he had a glim-stick, but his eyes were so used to the dark, he figured he could see almost as well without one. Lying on his back, he shoved his shoulders into the hearth, wiggling until they fit. Then he reached up and felt the chimney stones. Bits of soot and ash dropped onto his face, but he ignored them as his deft fingers explored.
Brick, brick, brick, hole.
Gideon grinned in triumph, angled his wrist, and reached into the hole. His fingers closed on a velvet bag, and he tugged it out. Wrenching his shoulders from the hearth, he pulled the bag open. Inside, several rings tinkled, and a rum thimble ticked the minutes away.
Even better, something flashed and winked. Gideon lifted the diamond-and-emerald necklace. He whistled softly to himself.
"There you are," he murmured.
He thrust the bag into his coat and stood. Now all he had to do was cross the room, open the door, and make his escape.
Footsteps clomped without, and the door handle rattled.