Mr. Henry Lake spent the past twelve years uncovering the most scandalous secrets of Europe’s wealthy and powerful, serving as one of His Majesty’s most decorated spies. But when a mission to find the legendary French Blue diamond brings him back to London, and face to face with a beautiful noblewoman he once loved, it’s his own hidden passions that are uncovered…
Lady Caroline, Countess of Berry, knows better than to lose her head over a man. After an embarrassing romantic entanglement forced her into a loveless marriage and early widowhood, she learned to never trust in desire, especially when it comes to the man who once broke her heart. Only, despite her good sense, she finds Henry impossible to resist—even when he once again places her in deathly danger…
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.
A graduate of Duke University, Jessica worked in an investment bank 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
Their vows echoed off the chapel’s mottled ceiling, rising and swooping like birds to surround the couple in soft whispers of faith and hope and love.
“Rings?” the vicar said, arching a brow.
For a moment the groom’s eyes went wide, and then, plucking the pale green ribbon from his queue, he released a curtain of red hair about his shoulders. He used his teeth to cut the ribbon in two. Tying one length into a small circlet, he slid it onto the bride’s fourth finger.
A sea of flickering candles held the darkness at bay as Lady Caroline Townshend was kissed for the first time by her husband. Joy welled up inside her and she smiled against the warm press of Henry Beaton Lake’s lips.
He kissed her far less chastely than was proper at a wedding, even a secret one. He kissed her as if every stroke, every pull, every move of their lips roused, rather than satiated, a growing need inside him.
Henry held her face in his hands, guiding her toward him as he pressed a kiss to one corner of her mouth, then the other. Breathless, Caroline stood on the tips of her toes to meet his caresses, streaks of light and bursts of color illuminating the backs of her closed eyelids.
The vicar, a rather less romantic fellow than Romeo and Juliet’s priest, shut his ancient Bible with a censorial thwunk.
Blushing, Caroline fell back from Henry, their hands entwining between them.
Lips pursed, eyes wide, the vicar glared at them. “God. Sees. Everything.”
In a whirl of black he turned and stalked down the aisle, shaking his head at young people these days and their carnal proclivities. Caroline’s lady’s maid, Nicks—the one and only witness—hurried after him.
Beside Caroline, Henry shook with repressed laughter.
“How much did you pay him?” she whispered.
“Clearly not enough.”
“Will he tell our parents?”
Henry ran his thumb across the back of her hand. “I should hope not. Though he doesn’t seem to like us very much.”
“Then we haven’t much time.”
“Do you mean to ravish me, Mrs. Lake?”
“I do indeed.”
“Let’s get on with it, then,” he said, and swung her into his arms.
* * *
Caroline grasped the windowsill and, as Henry gave her a boost from below, somersaulted into his bedchamber. Inside the room it was quiet and dark, save for a single lit taper on the bedside table.
“Really,” she panted, wiping her hands on her skirts. “Why not use the kitchen door? Your parents are still at my house for the ball.”
Henry landed noiselessly on his feet, closing the window behind him. “Where’s the challenge in that? Besides, I like all this sneaking about. Suits the secret marriage bit, don’t you think?”
He took her outstretched hands and pulled her a smidge too enthusiastically to her feet. Her nose bumped against the hardened center of his chest.
“Oh,” he said, thumbing her chin. “Oh, Caroline, I’m terribly sorry. Are you all right? I only meant to, um . . . I forget sometimes that you’re so little, you see; I’m used to my brothers, as you know they’re rather large . . .”
Caroline looked up at Henry. Large was an understatement; like his older brothers, Henry was a broad-shouldered, ginger-haired giant with the wickedest cheekbones she had ever seen. His green eyes were even wickeder (if that was a word)—so brightly suggestive, so darkly penetrating, Caroline feared she might burst into flames every time he looked at her.
“I’ll have a devil of a time explaining that to my mother.”
Henry angled his neck and brushed his lips to her injured nose. “Bloody business, marriage.”
“Mm-hm,” she said, burrowing farther into the circle of his arms. Her ring of ribbon slipped from her finger—it was a tad too large—and she coaxed it back into place.
His hand slid from her cheek to cup the back of her neck. With his thumb he tilted her head and caught her mouth with his. He kissed her deeply, passionately, as if he were out to steal not only her heart but her soul, her body, her being.
Henry took her bottom lip between his teeth. She saw stars.
His hands were on her face now; Caroline clung to his wrists, fearful the rush in her knees might cause them to give out. She felt the scattershot beat of his pulse beneath her fingers, the jutting architecture of his bones. Strength rippled beneath the surface of his skin, strength she felt him struggling to restrain.
And yet he touched her with great care, gently, as awed by her shape as she was of his. His fingers tangled in the hair at her temples as his mouth moved to her neck, working the tender skin there with his lips.
Caroline let out a breath, desperate, suddenly, to be free of her stays and ridiculously ruffled muslin gown. She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think; she was lost in the longing she’d felt for Henry from the moment they met eyes across the garden, three weeks before.
She was hardly seventeen, set to make her debut at St. James’s the following spring. Even so, Caroline knew the intensity of her feelings for Henry was a rare thing, rare and fragile. The world seemed fanatically intent on nipping such reckless affection in the bud before it ever had a chance to bloom.
But Caroline was intent on blooming. Beneath Henry’s careful, confident touch, his insistent caresses, she felt herself unravel and open, giving as Henry took, and took, and kept taking.
She slipped her hands beneath the lapels of his jacket. Henry rolled back his shoulders and shrugged free of the garment, tossing it aside. He began to move forward, pressing his body into hers as he guided her farther into the room. His fingers found purchase in a row of buttons between the blades of her shoulders, working them free one at a time.
“Hold up your arms, darling,” he murmured against her mouth, and gently coaxed the gown over her head.
It fell with a rustling sigh to the floor. The night air felt coolly potent against the bare skin of her arms. She shivered.
Henry gathered her in his arms, surrounding her body with the heat of his own. She could smell his skin, the clean, citrusy spice of his soap. Her desire soared.
In a hushed frenzy of movement, they unclothed one another: his waistcoat, her stays, his neckcloth. His head caught in his shirt, and after several futile attempts to remove it, Henry ripped it open. Buttons ricocheted about the room, landing with small pings as they rolled across the floor.
Caroline stared at his bare chest. She swallowed.
Henry took her hands and placed them on the center of his breastbone. She inhaled at the shock of warmth that met with her palms, the spring of wiry hair. She could feel his heart beating proudly within the cage of his ribs. Proudly, wildly, an echo of her own.
In the darkness she bent her neck, and pressed her lips to his chest. He inhaled sharply, his chest rising and falling beneath the working of her lips across his collarbone, up the corded slope of his neck.
Heavens, but she hoped his parents would not return for some hours yet; Caroline couldn’t have kept quiet if she’d wanted.
His fingers tugged at the neckline of her chemise as he took her bare shoulder in his mouth. The heat between her legs burned hotter. Henry coaxed the garment down the length of her body, releasing one breast, then the other. Quickly his mouth moved to take her nipple between his teeth, rolling it in the velvet touch of his tongue. The sensation was so poignant it hurt.
“Henry,” she breathed, tangling her fingers in his hair. “Please. Show me.”
He raised his head, eyes luminescent, translucent; they were warm and soft and they were on her, gleaming with desire.
“I was hoping you’d show me,” he replied.
“You’ve never? Never . . . you’re almost twenty, I thought . . .”
“This is to be the first time for both of us, I’m afraid.”
“Then I really am to ravage you.”
He grinned. “If you don’t mind terribly.”
His mouth came down on hers, and he was digging at the pins in her hair with impatient fingers. She heard them fall, one by one, until at last her hair tumbled in soft waves about her shoulder blades. Henry drew his hands through its tangled mass to rest on the naked small of her back. He pulled her to him, skin to skin; the hardened knots of her nipples brushed against his chest and she nearly cried out in agony, in desire.
The backs of Caroline’s thighs met with the bed. Henry grasped her hips, and her breath caught in her throat as he tossed her lightly onto the mattress. The coverlet felt cool and deliciously soft against her bare skin.
Henry looked down upon her with narrowed eyes, his face suddenly tight.
“Caroline,” he said roughly, slowly. “You are so . . . so very lovely. Beautiful.”
He ran a hand up the side of her rib cage, cupping her breast; he thumbed her nipple and she arched into his touch.
And then both his hands moved to her legs, sliding off her stockings; his fingers were in the waistband of her pantalets, tugging them over the smooth expanse of her belly, her knees.
Caroline was naked. She winced at the sudden rush of cool air against the beating throb of her sex. Please, she prayed. Please let it be soon.
Henry unbuttoned his breeches and swept them down to his ankles. He rose; Caroline stared at his cock, heavy with need, as unrepentantly enormous and thickly veined as the rest of his body. It jutted out from the sharp angle of his hips, unembarrassed, and she was at once hesitant and terribly curious.
“Caroline,” he said.
She swallowed. “I’m all right.”
“Caroline,” he said again. “We don’t have to do this. I couldn’t bear it if I hurt you, if you weren’t ready.”
For a beat he did not move, as if waiting for her to change her mind, waiting for her to roll over and demand he escort her home, take back all they’d said and done this night.
“I want to,” she said. “We’re married now, remember? We get to do this at last.”
Caroline sat up and reached for him. He drew a breath as her hand followed the narrowing trail of hair down his hardened belly; his whole body tensed when she wrapped her hand around his cock. He felt hard and soft all at once, the skin impatiently hot and silken. She put her mouth on his belly. One of his hands went to her hair while the other moved down to cover her own around his manhood.
“How?” she whispered.
“Like this,” he said, and together their hands moved up and down the length of his cock, once, twice, until he groaned and pulled away, suddenly, as if she’d hurt him.
“Caroline,” he said, his face in her hair. “I love you.”
“I love you,” she whispered.
“I can’t wait much longer. I want—I need you. Badly. Here.” He reached behind him, producing his rumpled shirt. “Lie down on this, love. I’m afraid you might bleed.”
She swallowed for what felt the hundredth time that night. He wasn’t kidding about marriage being a bloody business.
Wedging the shirt beneath Caroline’s bottom, Henry coaxed her back onto the bed. He took her knees in his hands and moved them apart, stepping forward so that he was wedged between her legs. She was wide open to him. She was afraid; she was overwhelmingly aroused.
Henry reached down and they both drew a breath when his first two fingers slipped between her slick curls, revealing a warmth, a wetness, that neither of them expected. Her desire soared; she ached for him to be inside her.
“Yes,” she panted. “Please, Henry.”
“Once we . . . I can’t stop then.”
“I don’t want you to stop.”
He stepped forward. The bed was set high, so high that, even while standing, Henry’s hips were level with hers. He put his hands on the inside of her thighs, pushing her legs even wider.
“Bend your knees about me,” he said.
Caroline did as she was told. He wrapped her bent legs about his hips, hooking her feet at his buttocks. She felt his fingers on her sex, holding her open as, with his other hand, he guided his cock into her folds. He nudged against her, wincing.
“Is it . . . Are we going to work?” she asked.
“Yes,” he breathed. “It’s very small in there.”
“Is it, um, as it should be?”
He closed his eyes, lips curling into a pained half grin. “You’re perfect.”
She tried not to recoil as pressure mounted between her legs. She felt herself stretching. Her pleasure was edged with pain.
“Caroline,” he said. He was looking at her now, eyes wide with concern. “Tell me how you’re feeling, all right?”
“I’m all right.”
He guided himself farther against her, using his fingers to keep her open to him. He moved his hips, pressing into her. He pressed harder, sucking in a breath as the first bit of him entered her.
The pleasant throb between her legs heightened to burning discomfort. Her eyes smarted. Henry was saying her name but she told him to keep going, and he did. Slowly he slid into her wet warmth; they both paused when he met the barrier inside her. He looked at her. She nodded, overwhelmed by the sting, by the sense of fullness he brought her.
I’m all right, Henry. Keep going.
He inhaled through his nose, and then he bucked his hips. In a single heartbeat, he sank to the hilt. A sound escaped Caroline’s lips, something between a cry and a whimper.
He was bent over her then, taking her cry into his mouth as he set his forearms on either side of her head, surrounding her. His body was wound tightly; she could tell he wanted to move between her legs, but he waited.
He gritted his teeth.
The sting began to subside, her pleasure—her heart—rising in its place. Oh, this felt lovely. A little full. But lovely.
Her hips began to circle against him, asking for more. Henry let out the breath he’d been holding and gently rocked his hips, withdrawing, entering again. Their skin, damp with sweat, slid and stuck.
She surrendered to the pounding beat of her passion. To the heavy weight of her love for him.
She surrendered to Henry.
They moved against each other ardently, lost in a whirl of pain and limbs and pleasure. Her hands moved over his shoulders, marveling at the roping and bunching of his back muscles as he worked between her legs. His lips trailed over her jaw and throat.
He slowed, suddenly, and then his eyes fluttered shut; he stilled and she could feel his cock pulse inside her.
“Christ,” he said when the pulsing subsided. His lips fluttered over her eyelashes. “I’m sorry, Caroline, I didn’t mean . . . I meant to be more careful, but you felt so good, I couldn’t stop. I wanted to stop.”
“I didn’t want you to stop,” she whispered. “I don’t want you to ever stop.”
Slowly he withdrew from inside her; she felt his seed seeping warmly from between her legs.
He cursed again when he looked down at the shirt beneath her.
“What is it?” she said.
“Blood,” he replied, mouth drawn into a line as he used the shirt to clean her. “A lot of it. Are you sure you’re all right?”
Caroline flexed her stiff legs. She felt very sore between them. “All right. Sore. A little sore.”
He crumpled the shirt between his hands and tossed it to the ground. He tugged the coverlet aside, holding it open for her. “Here, lie down. I’ll get a towel.”
She crawled between the bedclothes, smiling as she drew them up to her nose. They smelled like him. Like her husband.
He returned from the washstand with a damp towel, climbing into bed beside her. Thankfully he was still naked as the day he was born; he pressed his body against hers as he coaxed her legs apart, pressing the towel between them. It felt blessedly cool.
“I love you, Caroline,” he murmured in her ear, nicking the lobe with his teeth. She felt him smiling against her skin. “Wife.”
She smiled, too, a wide, irrepressible thing she felt in every corner of her being. Despite everything—despite how it appeared, her ten-thousand-pound dowry and his lack of position—despite their youth, their parents’ disapproval . . . despite all that, she knew this was where she was meant to be.
Caroline loved him. She felt loved by him. And wasn’t that the end of everything?
Henry spun her around and tugged her against the hardened mass of his body, her back to his front. He pulled the sheets over their heads and she, giggling, yielded to his hands as he took her body again and again and again, until the sun burned away the darkness.
* * *
It happened the next afternoon. As she was wont to do when in need of solitude and space, Caroline disappeared into the garden. Henry—her husband!—had a habit of sneaking from his father’s house to meet her there besides; she had half a mind to toss him beneath a bush and ravage him soundly, as she promised she would last night.
She was on her knees, digging at a half-dead holly, when she heard the telltale rustle in a nearby boxwood. Her chest lit up with excitement; she was smiling, hard, when she brushed back her hair and turned toward the noise.
Only it wasn’t Henry. George Osbourne, Viscount Umberton, heir to the wildly wealthy Earl of Berry, and Henry’s very best friend, emerged from the hedgerow. Caroline’s joy hardened in her throat at the sight of Osbourne’s well-formed, if slight, figure. His face was hard, his dark eyes soft.
A tendril of panic unfurled inside her belly. She didn’t like that look; something was amiss.
“My lord,” she said hopefully, as if she might will good news with the tone of her voice. “What an unexpected surprise. Have you . . . er . . . come for tea?”
Osbourne bowed. “My lady, I am sorry to meet you like this, but I came straightaway.”
“What?” So much for the soothing tone of voice. “What is it?”
He wiped the sweat from his thick eyebrow with a trembling thumb. When he spoke his voice was low, hoarse.
“He’s gone. Henry—Lake—he’s gone. I—” Here Osbourne looked away. “I thought you should know. I understand the two of you have . . . become quite close this summer, and I—”
The brass-handled garden trowel fell from her gloved hand to the earth with a muted thud of protest. “Gone? Where? But how . . . I don’t understand!”
Osbourne’s face was tensed with pain as he looked down at her. He swallowed. “Emptied his drawers into a valise—there’s nothing left, and he took the five pounds his older brother was hiding in his pillow. He left a note for his parents, something about duty, and not coming to look for him. He said he wouldn’t come back. Lady Caroline, Henry is gone.”
Caroline’s vision blurred; tears burned her eyes, and she fell back on her haunches. “Perhaps it’s a mistake,” she said. “A misunderstanding with his father, or maybe it’s a joke, or—or—”
“I know Henry,” Osbourne said. “He’s gone, Caroline. I don’t know where, and I don’t know why. But he’s gone.”
She was sobbing then, and George Osbourne fell to his knees beside her and held her to his chest. They sat like that, damp with the heat of one another’s tears, until the garden was tawny with twilight.
That was the last Caroline heard of Henry Beaton Lake, her husband, before he disappeared from Oxfordshire, from England, from her life.
Before he disappeared forever.
Brunswick Castle, Occupied Kingdom of Westphalia
Passing under the grand iron arch of Brunswick Palace’s gates, Henry Lake ducked into the shadows and, with a wince, peeled off his beard and moustache.
Bloody things itched like the devil; during his audience at the palace he (rather stoically, it must be said) fended off a fit of sneezing when the waxed ends of his moustache lodged themselves in his nostrils. A self-indulgent addition to his disguise, that moustache, but well worth the trouble.
Henry had got what he came to this godforsaken country in a most godforsaken winter for.
He’d found the French Blue at last.
Burrowing into an alcove between two buildings, Henry leaned against a wall and closed his eyes. His ragged breath shot from his lips in an opaque cloud as he struggled to catch his breath.
It was just as he suspected.
Just as he feared.
The diamond he’d hunted for ten years was in London.
Had it already been ten years? Dear God, he was getting old.
London. He hadn’t set foot in England for more than a decade, and for good reason. She was there. Which meant he couldn’t be.
He winced at the twist of pain in his chest, that familiar sensation, that old friend who’d accompanied him across the Continent these past years.
He had no choice; the French Blue was in London, and so to London Henry Lake would go. The diamond was far too precious a bargaining chip to let slip through his fingers. He had to obtain it lest it vanish again, the way it vanished from Paris some twenty years ago at the start of the Revolution.
He didn’t have much time. No matter the danger his presence in England posed to her, to his family. He’d go, do his duty, and with any luck be back in the thick of things here on the Continent without anyone the wiser.
Besides, London was an enormous city. She was but one of thousands, hundreds of thousands of bodies occupying that soggy spot beside the Thames. No, he wouldn’t see her. Definitely not. He was an agent of His Majesty’s most esteemed Alien Office for God’s sake; disguise, disappearance, and dashing were his trade. If he wanted to avoid detection, he could.
Only when it came to her, he didn’t trust himself.
Tucking the remains of his disguise into his pocket, he limped through the blustery twilight. He drew a sharp breath; lately the bone-deep ache in his leg had heightened to a white-hot, searing sting. Even as he welcomed the pain, on cold nights like this he had a mind to swallow a pint of bourbon and cut the damned thing off. Weren’t peg-legged pirates all the rage in novels these days?
Over the years, Lake found work to be the only antidote to his rising pain, and so as he limped, he let loose his thoughts. He’d suspected the Princess of Wales was in possession of the diamond from the moment his hunt for the missing crown jewels of France began. His suspicion proved correct, as his suspicions were often wont to do.
Her Majesty’s father, that wily bastard Karl Wilhelm, Duke of Brunswick, was dead, but his jeweler was not. In fact he was making quite a heap off his lusty French occupiers here in Germany, who admired jewels almost as much as they admired themselves.
A heap he would indubitably forfeit, should his French clients learn he played them for fools as an agent of his former master’s son, the exiled Black Duke.
It didn’t take much: a bottle of wine, a threat of blackmail, and an hour later Henry squeezed the information from Karl Wilhelm’s jeweler like juice from a lemon.
And he was one goddamned juicy lemon.
The jeweler didn’t know how, exactly, Karl Wilhelm came to own a fifty-carat blue diamond. A diamond that once graced the royal breasts of French kings. But he did know Karl passed it to his daughter, the Princess of Wales, after he’d had the jeweler reshape the French Blue to fool Napoleon’s agents.
All that was left to do was ply the French Blue from the princess’s grasp. Doubtless she was holding the gem hostage from her buffoon of a husband. But perhaps with the right words, a bit of flattery, the jewel might be coaxed from her treasure chest.
Henry shrugged his chin into the collar of his coat, ears ringing with cold, and turned down an alley. Usually a smelly cesspit, tonight it appeared clean, quaint even, thanks to a downy blanket of snow that glittered in the light streaming from the tavern window.
Henry paused, checking the leather strap of his eye patch. Not for the first time he was glad he had only one eye. It eased the pain, the velvety blackness that enveloped what had been his right eye; the blind spot that hid from him half the world, and half his body. The half that hurt.
He didn’t deserve to be whole. Not after what he’d done to her.
Patrons near the front of the tavern glanced up at the bitter gust that accompanied Lake into the tavern. They all looked familiar, and quite drunk. Good, very good; he and Moon might have a conversation without fear of it leaving this room.
Making his way to a table near the fire, Lake winked at the tall, reedy woman wiping a mug behind the counter.
“Ah, Brunhilde! You are looking well today.”
Brunhilde harrumphed, a loud, throaty sound. “Wink at me again and I’ll break your balls.”
“Such an elegant flower you are! How I do love the women in this country. Might I request a mug of your best beer, and a crust of bread?”
“Out of bread, and the beer is piss.”
“Well, then. I shall take some of the piss if you please, Brunhilde.”
Brunhilde harrumphed again. Henry took a seat across from a conspicuously square-jawed woman and took off his hat with a sigh.
“Too much?” the woman asked in French.
“Tell me, Mr. Moon, are you trying to look like a man dressed as a woman on purpose?”
Moon blinked. “No.”
“Then yes, I’m afraid it is too much.”
“Blast! The wig alone took me two weeks to make.”
“I shall not inquire as to where you obtained so much hair.”
“Better if you don’t.”
“Excellent.” Lake leaned back as Brunhilde dropped a mug on the table before him, beer slopping onto his lap. “Now that that’s settled, we might get down to business.”
Lake sipped thoughtfully at his beer. Not bad, that; Germans were such snobs about their brews. “The Blue’s just where I thought it’d be. We leave in the morning; the sooner the gem is in our possession, the sooner we can begin to negotiate with our toad-faced friend the emperor.”
He smiled at the familiar tingle of excitement burning to life at the base of his skull. “Think of it, Moon. You and I could very well save the lives of hundreds, thousands of good British soldiers, soldiers like you and me. Who knows what Old Boney might trade for the diamond? I daresay even his tiny little manhood is on the table.”
Mr. Moon scratched at his wig. “You haven’t been back home in some time, have you, sir?”
Lake scoffed. “I hardly remember what England looks like.”
But he did remember, in startling, painful detail, what she looked like. Dark hair, dark eyes, pale skin like alabaster, the warmth of her body curled into his . . .
Henry finished his mug in three long, hard pulls, head pulsing at the sudden rush of cold.
“I say, sir, are you all right?”
Henry tried not to wince. “Quite.”
“So, the plan,” Moon said. “We can’t possibly afford to buy the diamond off the princess. Are you going to steal it?”
“Bah, theft is for amateurs. Besides, she’ll assume her husband did it. I daresay she’d try to stab him.”
“Surely you’re joking.”
“Sadly, I am not.” Lake smacked his lips. “No, we won’t thieve the jewel. And we won’t buy it, either.”
Moon furrowed his brow. “But I don’t understand.”
“We won’t buy the diamond from Princess Caroline. But someone else will. I’ve got just the man for the job.”
“One of your agents?”
“No. The man who gave me this.” Lake pointed to his right eye. “Oh, heavens, Moon, put your eyeballs back in your head. It was an unfortunate accident—storm-tossed seas, falling mainmast, that sort of thing. If it wasn’t for me, he’d be lying in a hundred broken pieces at the bottom of the Channel. Needless to say the man owes me a favor.”
Moon swallowed. “Several favors, I should hope.”
“Convincing the Princess of Wales to sell a prized jewel under false pretenses is a rather large favor, but I am never one to say never.” Lake clapped his hands and rubbed the palms together. “Well, then. As much as I’d love to stay and chat up old Brunhilde, we must be off.”
Late Spring 1812
Fragrant in the best—and worst—of ways, Hyde Park was just as Lady Caroline Townshend, Dowager Countess of Berry, remembered it: achingly lovely, poignantly familiar.
The springtime sun threw the park’s multicolored charms into stunning relief. Blooms perfumed the warm breeze and almost (though not quite) masked the more earthy smells of manure and mud. The meadows and hedgerows were so violently green her eyes watered; the day’s dying light streamed through the gaps in the trees and pooled in honey-hued stillness beneath their branches.
For a moment Caroline closed her eyes and inhaled the sensations of this place. She hadn’t been back in over a decade; last time she frequented the park she was seventeen, in town for her first—and last—season. She’d been so lost then, so lonely.
And now she was lost again.
Her throat tightened at the rush of memories from that year. In the space of a single summer she’d fallen in love once and married twice; how young she was then, how unprepared for the crushing pleasures and disappointments of womanhood! Even now, so many years later, thinking about him—she could not bear to put a name to her longing—made her heart swell with something so forceful it took her breath away.
Caroline swallowed, hard. She could not cry. She would not cry, not here, not in Hyde Park, and during the fashionable hour at that; though she was a widow, and thus entitled to live as eccentrically as she wished, spreading gossip was always preferable to being its subject.
And so Caroline did not cry; she tripped instead.
“Heavens, Caroline, do mind your step. That’s the third time today!” With a sigh her brother, William, Earl of Harclay, drew her upright by the elbow. Nodding apologetically at a nearby matron, he said, “I’ve half a mind to put you in a pram so that our fellow pedestrians might be spared injury. I thought you’d grown out of your awkwardness.”
Caroline untangled her foot from her skirts. “No such luck, I’m afraid, but it does make our strolls much more exciting, don’t you think?”
“No, I don’t. Let’s sit.”
Caroline kept her arm tucked into the crook of his elbow as they sat on a bench set into a hedge of boxwood. She hadn’t realized how much she’d missed William, his clever smiles, the way the skin at the edges of his dark eyes creased when he laughed. She’d forgotten how safe he made her feel. How welcome.
Besides, the attention he received from his admirers—they were like bees, swarming, buzzing, out for the kill—was worth the exhausting, muddy ride down to London. Caroline had never before seen a woman deliberately drop her beaded reticule into a gentleman’s lap, only to retrieve it practically with her teeth.
“Ah, Lady Bonham,” William had said. “We must give her credit for trying, however misguided her efforts.”
Grinning at the memory, Caroline looked out over the lawn before them. A dozen children skittered across the emerald expanse.
“But heavens, aren’t they darling,” she said, winking at a dark-haired baby burrowed into his nursemaid’s neck. Even as Caroline smiled, longing gripped her heart and squeezed.
“They’re everywhere,” William said, and pulled up the edge of his coat at the approaching twins who’d somehow managed to escape their mother’s lap.
Caroline caught each of the children by the arm and handed them back to their mother. “They don’t bite, you know. Unlike a certain person of our mutual acquaintance.”
“That was merely a phase, dear sister, and lasted only a month or two besides.”
She grinned. “I was fourteen the last time you bit me. Here, you can see the mark on my arm—”
William waved her away, laughing. “If I had known you’d come all the way to London merely to torment me with tales of my sordid past, I would’ve never invited you in the first place.”
“Ah, your sordid past! I’m so glad you brought it up,” she said, looping her arm through her brother’s once more. “While it’s quite dashing to live the life of a rakehell when one is two-and-twenty, I daresay dissipation is outré as one approaches thirty.”
“Even for an earl?”
“Especially for an earl.”
William gave the ribbon that dangled from her bonnet a soft tug. “Then you will be glad to know I’ve found London, and its dissipated amusements, rather dull these past months.”
“Dull?” Caroline arched a brow. “Even with all those debutantes to despoil?”
William sighed. “Even so.”
“Whatever shall you do?”
A small, secret smile flickered at the corners of his lips. “I’ve an idea or two.”
“Not marriage, surely?”
“Dear God, no.”
Caroline narrowed her eyes. William was up to something; she recognized that look in his dark gaze, the playful, if dangerous, intent lurking there. The look of the devil.
“It’s got something to do with Mr. Hope’s ball tonight, doesn’t it?” she said. “Is that why you won’t allow me to attend? I confess I am disappointed; I do think that theme of the Sun King’s family jewels or what have you is quite clever.”
William turned to her, his face studiously blank. “I am merely protecting your good virtue, Caroline. Hope’s soirees are notorious; everyone knows he spikes the punch with that damnably good stuff from his cellar. I won’t have you seduced by some idiot in a powdered wig and pumps thinking he’s a Sun King. It’s too soon.”
Caroline grinned. “I like wigs.”
“I know you do. That’s why you can’t go.” He took her hand and squeezed it, gently. “I understand you are just out of mourning, Caroline, and eager for diversion. We shall have a grand season, you and I; I shall show you all that London has to offer. But I beg you trust me about tonight. Get some rest and tomorrow we shall begin our tour.”
Caroline sighed, leaning her head against his shoulder. “All right. On one condition: we start our tour this afternoon with an ice at Gunter’s.”
“Excellent idea,” he said. “I do hope they still have the cheese-flavored ice. It’s my favorite.”
“A cheese-flavored ice?” She wrinkled her nose. “You always did have a taste for the bold.”
William took a long breath, let it out through his nose. “And what of you and marriage? You seem determined to enjoy your solitude.”
It was Caroline’s turn to smile. “For once, you and I see eye to eye on the matter. As much as I miss my late husband, bless him, I wasn’t expecting to find widowhood quite so . . . freeing. I go where I wish, whenever I wish it. I don’t need a chaperone; heavens, I am the chaperone.”
“I think you’d make a terrible chaperone.”
“Thank you, Brother, I know coming from you that’s a compliment.” She grinned. “Besides. I don’t think I could bear another man’s follies. His moods.”
I couldn’t bear more heartbreak. Caroline had experienced enough of that to last a lifetime. Even now, she saw in the faces of the men who passed another scheme, another lie, another heartbreak to be suffered.
“Well,” William said, “since you wish to go to Gunter’s, I suppose we should scratch that itch before you launch into another speech.”
She rapped him on the shoulder. “That was a good speech.”
“Very good. Let’s be off.”
William rose and with excessive caution helped Caroline to her feet. Heads bent, they began to walk—“Slowly,” William counseled, “carefully”—when Caroline looked up. She blinked, and blinked again when her gaze landed on a vaguely familiar outline some distance across the park.
He was enormous, a broad-shouldered, ginger-haired predator with legs like tree trunks. His color was high, the cheekbones slicing across his face flushed pink, as a small grin of—was that satisfaction?—curled at his lips. Cords of vein and sinew stood out against the bare skin of his neck. Something about it—his neck—made Caroline feel warm, suddenly, like the sun had regained its noontime strength.
Her heart stumbled inside her chest.
The figure was moving quickly—not walking, not a run, it was more of a limp—down one of Hyde Park’s well-groomed pathways. His eyes were narrowed in concentration; one of his hands was tucked into the soft folds of his plain, if well-cut, kerseymere coat.
He moved confidently, discreetly through the crush (as discreetly as could a ginger-haired giant, anyway). He ducked behind a thick-trunked tree, only to reappear halfway across a verdant lawn. He ducked again; Caroline frantically searched the crowd for his face.
The last time she’d seen that broad-shouldered figure was twelve years ago in the garden at her family’s house. It couldn’t be him, he’d disappeared and for all she knew he was dead, or living out his days as a pirate in Damascus.
Besides, who hurried about Hyde Park with his hand shoved in his pocket, and during the fashionable hour at that? It was so farfetched it bordered on the ridiculous.
Which meant, of course, that it had to be him.
Him, her husband.
“Caroline,” William was saying. “Caroline, wait, where are you going? Is it a bee? Wait, you know I’m afraid of them, the last time I was stung my toe swelled to the size of an apricot . . .”
She was charging across the park, legs moving in time to the wild echo of her pulse. The ribbons of her bonnet fluttered in her face, tickling her nose; she pushed them away. Her slippers squished in the damp grass. She kept moving.
Like a shadow dissolved into night, he disappeared into Hyde Park’s hedgerows, into the tinkling bustle of the crush. He would vanish, only to reappear moments later; she could see the muscles in his jaw were drawn tight.
She dipped and trudged and changed course as best she could in time to his movements; people began to stare but she stumbled over them, breathing a hurried thanks to a gentleman who caught her by the arm before she launched heels over head into the Serpentine.
Her legs ached and her lips burned, strangely, a prickle of sensation she felt in the center of her chest.
At last she saw him. He was drawn up behind a copse of trees, sheltered from the prying eyes of passersby.
He turned his head, and through the dappled green of newborn leaves Caroline and Henry Lake met eyes.
A swell of pain, a tingling rush that was hot and cold and hard and soft all at once, moved through her. The ground tugged at her feet as if it might swallow her; she felt dizzy.
His eye—his one eye, the other was gone, masked by a black leather patch—was as green as she remembered, translucent, probing. A searing flash of memory blinded her as she saw him as she had for the first time: vexingly handsome, alluringly mysterious. Although this time the skin at the edge of his eye did not crinkle quite so pleasantly; deep lines were etched there, creases that crept downward as if born of glowers and grimaces.
Her stomach clenched. He was the same. He was different. Who was this man, this stranger—?
“Heavens, Caroline,” William panted, bending over to rest his hands on his knees, “since when were you so light on your feet? Did you spot a particularly delicious child?”
Caroline blinked, turning to look at her brother. “No. No, I thought . . . well, I thought I saw . . .”
She turned back to the copse. It was empty; the half-naked trees groaned as a breeze rustled their branches.
She shook her head. “It was nothing.”
“Are you quite sure?” William asked, drawing upright. “It didn’t look like nothing. You were running like the devil.”
Looping her arm through his, Caroline tugged him onto the path. “Shall we make for home? I do believe the hour for libation draws near.”
“But what about Gunter’s? I was looking forward to that ice.”
Forget Gunter’s, she wanted to say. Perhaps, if she got William drunk enough, he might not recognize her at Hope’s ball tonight. Surely she and her maid, Nicks, could cobble together a passably decent Madame de Montespan costume? A little powder and more rouge, and no one the wiser.
At least she hoped powder and rouge would do the trick.
For she had a funny feeling Henry would be in attendance at Hope’s ball. Despite her better judgment, despite the creeping sense that her brother was up to no good, despite her anger and her regret, Caroline would be, too.
She couldn’t stay away. Not tonight. Not after all this time.
Henry was back.
Duchess Street, Near Cavendish Square
Later That Night
Henry brought the bottle to his lips and took one enormous, savage pull. The cognac burned brightly as it slid down his throat, but it did nothing to loosen the knot in the center of his chest.
He’d seen her.
The her. Caroline.
Out of the tens and hundreds and thousands of people in London, he’d locked eyes with the one person he didn’t want to see across the emerald expanse of Hyde Park.
The one person he’d sworn, twelve years before, to keep far from the violence of the life he’d chosen.
Violence that found him even in the midst of Hyde Park’s shimmering tranquility. He’d had the distinct feeling he was being followed, hence his mad dash, the way he kept his fingers clamped down on the pistol tucked into his waistcoat.
Nothing came of his suspicion, praise God. Still, she’d seen him. And he’d seen her.
Even now his blood rushed hot at the memory of her face. She was just as beautiful as she’d been at seventeen, impossibly lovely. Those wide brown eyes, the dark, curling lashes he’d found so provocative a decade ago; the soft curve of her chin, the windswept way her temples sloped to sharp cheeks and smooth lips.
God, those lips.
She was beautiful, yes. But in that beautiful face he’d seen no trace of a smile, none of the lines that came from laughing too hard and too often. His entire body tightened when he thought about the look in her eyes: soft in all the wrong ways, like a wounded animal’s, and watery. She’d been pale, almost drawn, and thin; he saw no evidence of the curves he’d enjoyed so liberally in his bed twelve years before.
Henry told himself she was still heartbroken over the loss of her husband; in Paris he’d received the news of the Earl of Berry’s passing. That explained her pallor, the wet unhappiness in her gaze. He couldn’t stand the thought that she’d loved, and been loved in return, by someone else (and his former best friend, at that). And yet the idea that Henry was responsible for her sorrow, that she had not found contentment in his absence, was even worse.
His best friend. Caroline had married him not two months after Henry left England. Even now he still burned with jealousy that Osbourne had given Caroline what Henry could not. A home, a title, a family.
Things a lovely girl like her deserved. Things that would make her happy.
He slid his fingers into the hair at the nape of his neck and pulled, hard. God but it was complicated. He couldn’t tell if he felt relieved, riled, remorseful. He drowned in all those things and more. Henry turned at the sound of ungainly footsteps—more clomps, really—and took another swig of cognac to keep from laughing.
His old friend Mr. Thomas Hope tripped onto the balcony of his Mayfair mansion, leaning on his gilded walking stick as if for life itself. Immaculately, if gaudily, attired as the Sun King Louis XIV, Hope wore a towering wig of black curls that lent him the air of a disheveled pirate. The deep cuffs of his ivory silk coat, embroidered with gold thread, glimmered in the light of the setting sun above. The sash slung about his breast was studded with an impressive collection of rare jewels.
Henry looked down to see the culprit of all that clomping: red-heeled pumps, fastened by diamond clips.
Hope was nothing if not thorough. Henry allowed himself a small smile at the memory of their time together on the Continent. As partners in service to His Majesty the King of England (in crime, too), they’d taken Paris by storm; armed with Hope’s intimate knowledge of French banks, they’d managed to foil several of Napleon’s more nefarious plots. Hope was a good man and a better agent; even so, he’d left the service to establish Hope & Co. here in London.
Now, as England’s preeminent—and wealthiest—banker, Hope had the blunt Lake did not. Which meant, of course, he had the means to purchase the French Blue from the Princess of Wales; which is exactly what Hope did some two weeks ago after Lake called in that favor.
With the diamond in hand, Lake need only attract the attention of the French so that negotiations might begin. Hope hatched a plan to display the jewel at one of his infamously opulent balls, this one titled “An Evening at Versailles: The Jewel of the Sun King.” All of London had been abuzz for weeks after last year’s ball (its theme had something or other to do with those poison-loving Borgias), so what better way to set fire to Old Boney’s arse than with this debauched little soiree?
“Give me that,” Hope said, swiping the cognac from Henry’s grasp. “I look ridiculous.”
Lake shrugged. “But I thought you liked costumes? In France you were all too eager to don a disguise. Remember the time you played a one-armed butcher—”
“This”—Hope impaled his wig with the gilded walking stick—“is a rather different scenario, don’t you think? The wig, the shoes . . . it’s a bit much, even for me. And dear God my head hurts.”
“Small price to pay for king and country, my friend. Though it does make you wonder how old Louis managed it. Fellow must’ve been bald as a bat to wear a wig like that.”
Hope set down the cognac on the stuccoed balustrade between them. “He was a masochist, no two ways about it. Actually, I’m beginning to think we have quite a lot in common.”
They both turned toward the house at the piercing sound of an opera prima donna warming up her instrument. The glass doors lining this side of Hope’s well-appointed residence were flung open to the warm breeze, revealing the ballroom within. Footmen and scullery maids and all manner of staff crisscrossed its marbled expanse in a frenzy of preparation; Hope’s first guests would arrive at any moment.
Lake inhaled, the intoxicating, sweet-fresh scent of the lilies strewn about Hope’s ballroom filling his head. The knot in his chest tightened; that scent, those flowers, they reminded him of Caroline’s perfume. He would never forget the way she smelled: like spring, like warm nights, like sweetness and promise and possibility.
He grasped the cognac between his thumb and forefinger and gulped, wiping his lips with the back of his hand.
Back to business. Business on which the lives of thousands of British soldiers depended; he did not have time to think about the past and its regrets. “When Bonaparte’s men make contact, send for me straightaway. And don’t lose sight of that diamond.”
“And you”—Hope grabbed the bottle—“don’t drink all my cognac. It’s bloody impossible to get these days. Who do you think is going to steal the French Blue, anyway? Everyone who’s coming tonight can buy their own damned jewels. If I were to peg anyone, it’d be you. Besides, I hired twenty extra men to patrol the ballroom, just in case. Trust me, Lake. Nothing is going to happen.”
Ah, if Henry had a copper for every time he’d heard that.
“I don’t have to remind you there are no more famous last words than those,” he said.
Hope turned to the ballroom at the sound of female voices, his first guests; Henry turned and in one swift, silent motion, launched himself over the balustrade.
It was an admittedly self-indulgent move—he did so enjoy witnessing Hope huff and puff over his theatrics—but Henry had business to see to, and the night was getting on.
Henry landed noiselessly on his feet in the mews behind the house and limped round to Duchess Street. His leg ached fiercely tonight; with every step his being rang with misery.
Getting old, Henry decided, was a most depressing endeavor.
Above him, night began to bruise the sky, and faded stars gained pulsing strength. The air was warm and calm and pleasant against his skin. Tucking a stray lock behind his ear, Henry wove determinedly through the growing traffic gathered about the imposing façade of Hope’s town house. To Cheapside, he wondered, or was it best to head for the bridge . . . ?
That was when he saw her.
It was only a glance, a quick sweep of his eye to the shadowy alley tucked between two houses. But he would know that face anywhere; he could pick out the proud set of her shoulders in a crowd.
He drew up suddenly, pressing his back to a nearby wall. His heart beat unevenly, insistently inside his ears. He turned his head, daring another glance over his right shoulder.
With the help of a liveried footman, Lady Caroline Townshend—no, wait, she was Caroline Osbourne now, wasn’t she?—descended from a gleaming carriage lacquered a brave shade of blue. Even as she stepped carefully, she caught her slippered foot in the silken expanse of her skirts and pitched forward, arms flying above her head.
Henry’s belly turned over and his hands shot up as if he might catch her from where he stood. Praise heaven the footman broke her fall, and together they tumbled in an elegant knot to the ground.
For half a heartbeat Henry’s chest flared with jealousy. Even though the man had rescued Caroline from a nasty spill, Henry hated the sight of his hands on her person. It was all he could do not to leap from his hiding place and help her to her feet himself.
But he couldn’t. He would not embroil her in his plot. He’d learned, twelve years before, the suffering his bloody doings could bring to those he loved. Caroline would be spared.
He squeezed his eyes shut, breathing hard. He felt dizzy. His palms were sticky with sweat. His heart felt as big around as the moon.
“Oh, oh, thank you, Collins, I’m afraid this won’t be the first time I’ll be mauling you,” he heard her saying. Her voice sent a shiver of recognition down his spine; he winced against the longing that surged through him.
“. . . and please,” she whispered, “please keep this . . . outing of mine between us. I shall meet you at this very spot.”
Henry’s eyes flew open. Caroline wasn’t supposed to be here? He snuck another glance. She was indeed alone, without an escort; her rakehell brother the Earl of Harclay was nowhere in sight.
Caroline looked up and Henry ducked just in time. He held his breath as she passed an arm’s length from him onto Duchess Street. He watched her back disappear into the crush; her hair was swept high onto her head, leaving the nape of her long, swanlike neck bare. He could see the tiny hairs there glimmer in the light of the streetlamps.
He swallowed. His fingers began to twitch.
Holding a fan up to her face, Caroline slipped between two carriages and mounted the front steps of Hope’s mansion.
Of course. Her intricately embroidered ivory silk gown and enormous panniers should have given it away.
Caroline was going to Hope’s ball.
Sneaking into Hope’s ball, more like it.
Henry brought one of those twitching fingers to his lips. He shouldn’t do it. Really, he couldn’t. There was the diamond, and the whole of the British Empire to serve and protect . . .
He thought about Caroline’s bare neck, and her perfume.
Henry stalked across the street, ignoring the catcalls and curses of the drivers he passed. Safe in the shadows on the dark side of the street, he ducked into an alcove beside a bay window.
He did not wait long. A gentleman dressed in a ridiculous robin’s-egg blue coat and white satin knee breeches passed by, obviously bound for Hope’s Versailles-themed ball.
Lake stepped out into the street. The man’s wife or mistress was nowhere in sight; even better, he swayed a bit on his feet.
He was drunk.
It was all Henry could do not to rub his hands together with glee.
Reaching out, Henry grasped the man by the back of the neck. Before the drunkard could cry out, Lake brought his fist down on the top of his head. For a moment the unfortunately attired chap wavered, and then he fell into Lake’s arms.
Looking up to make sure no one was about, Lake quietly dragged the man into the alcove and got to work. He left a handful of coins in the man’s clammy palm; clothes this ridiculous must have cost a small fortune.
Tugging at the embroidered lapels of the robin’s-egg blue coat—it was more than a little snug, and the breeches, dear God!—Lake emerged from the alcove a few moments later.
The crush to enter Hope’s ball was already immense; costumed guests jostled and pushed against Henry’s elbows, his shoulders. As he ran a hand over the powdered expanse of his wig in an attempt to smooth it, his palm brushed against his leather eye patch. He hesitated.
And then he pushed on. He was a head and a half taller, his shoulders twice as wide, as any gentleman in attendance—since when had Englishmen gotten so damned small?
Besides, considering the selection of costumed guests—and bared bosoms—he’d already seen, no one was going to pay him much mind.
With a speed of which he did not think himself capable, Henry darted up the steps, weaving and ducking between bejeweled guests like a boxer in the ring. He slipped through the doors, narrowly avoiding a run-in with Caroline’s scalawag brother, the Earl of Harclay, who wore a purple waistcoat of so vibrant a hue it made Henry’s eye smart.
He stalked through the hall and into the colonnaded gallery that ran the length of the ballroom. He stopped to survey the crowd: lots of wigs, lots of indecently exposed skin, but no Caroline.
Swiping a coupe of champagne from a passing footman, Henry watched as Hope’s bewigged head crisscrossed the ballroom, nodding here, sagging there; his grim-faced guards waited in the shadows. Still no sight of her.
Henry began to panic. What if she’d already left, snuck away while he was busy assaulting a stranger behind a bay window? Worse, what if she was ensconced in some private room upstairs with an unscrupulous gentleman, intent on indulging the freedoms allowed her as a widow?
It wasn’t any of his business, he reminded himself. She wasn’t his. Not anymore.
His blood rushed hot at the unwelcome thought, nonetheless; he downed his champagne in a single gulp and set the glass down none too gently on a nearby table. He took another from a nearby footman, and downed that one, too. Taking a third, Henry pushed his way into the ballroom.
Still no Caroline.
Just when he was about to give up and give in, across the ballroom he caught sight of a familiar pair of shoulders.
She was alone (thank God); even so, his heart fell.
Lady Caroline Osbourne was looking for someone. He could tell by the way she was trying to look like she was doing anything but.
She turned, stray wisps of hair brushing against the skin of her nape as she looked over her shoulder.
She looked right at Henry.
His heart tripped inside his chest. The pressure in the ballroom changed, suddenly, and Henry could feel his pulse moving inside his head.
Her eyes were heavy and full. Oh, but she was lovely.
Caroline looked away, color rising to her cheeks. He watched the rise and fall of her chest. He wondered who she was looking for, what she meant to do with him.
She moved through the crush, and he moved with her, always maintaining a safe distance even as he drew closer, bit by bit. He had no idea what he was doing. What would he say, if he drew close enough? Would she even speak to him?
But he couldn’t help but follow her. He trampled toes, mauled debutantes, overturned a footman’s tray; Henry hardly noticed the wreckage he left in his wake as he trailed Caroline across the ballroom.
Every now and again she would turn and look at him, knowing he’d be there, staring at her like a man possessed. She would meet his gaze, and then, her blush deepening, she’d look away.
He watched her sidle up to the refreshment tables and accept a coupe of punch. He grinned when, after taking her first sip, her eyes watered and she let out a little sputter of surprise. Hope’s punch was a criminally potent brew.
Her eyes flicked up to meet Henry’s over the rim of her crystal coupe. Her eyelashes were long, and darker than he remembered. Girlish, and pretty.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for the Hope Diamond trilogy
“Overflows with adventure, suspense, and fast-paced action…A fresh new voice in historical romance.”—Shana Galen, author of The Spy Wore Blue
“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
“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. If that isn’t enough, she peppers the Hope Diamond series starter with steamy love scenes, wild escapades, and a laugh or two. Peterson keeps the pace flying and readers hanging on to their utter joy.”—RT Book Reviews
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
#3 and final installment in the amazing "The Hope Diamond"Trilogy. Can be read as a stand alone, but I would suggest reading the other two first, "The Gentleman Jewel Thief" and "The Millionaire Rogue". Fast paced, action packed, thrill ride of espionage, romance, passion, and one dangerously seductive diamond. Meet, Lady Caroline, the Countess of Berry and Mr. Henry Lake. Secrets and danger are abound as well as suspense and adventure. I loved how the author brought this Trilogy to it's conclusion. Wickedly delicious! *Received for an honest review from the publisher* Rating:4.5 Heat rating: Mild Reviewed by: AprilR, courtesy of My Book Addiction and More
This is the 3rd book in a fun, sexy trilogy and it's the best! It is also the author's 3rd book and she has gotten better with each one. I enjoyed this book. The three books tell each couple's reaction to the theft of the French Blue diamond. Henry and Caroline were married at a young age and he left her to spy for England. She is still hurt over his leaving her. He has to recover the diamond for England. And the rest is fun and sexy. That is all I'll say as I do not write or read plot spoilers.
This is book 3 in the Hope Diamond Trilogy. 12 years ago, a very young Lady Caroline married Henry Lake. Unfortunately, he ran off on their wedding night. Realizing that he wasn't coming back, Caroline married his best friend and became Duchess of Berry. She is now a widow and just now coming back into society. No one is more surprised than Caroline, when Henry shows up in London. Unbeknownst to Caroline, Henry works for the government as a spy. He left all those years ago to protect her. He is only in town to help recover the French Blue diamond. He was hoping to avoid seeing Caroline, but a chance meeting in the park changes everything. The attraction between the two of them is as strong as ever. Can Caroline help Henry find the diamond without having her heart broken again? Loved this series!! I highly recommend reading the whole series together (as I did), because the books are so intertwined. They cover the same period of time and with each book you see the same things occur, but from a different perspective. I loved this particular book because the H/H have a history together. They are married to each other even though they have not seen each other for 12 years. The chemistry that was there then, is still burning hot. I loved that Peterson took some real life people and gave us a story about what might have happened to what became known as the Hope Diamond. This series is her first and I can't wait to see what she has in store for us next!! Thanks go out to Penguin Group via NetGalley for a copy of the book in exchange of an honest review.
***Review posted on The Eater of Books! blog*** The Undercover Scoundrel by Jessica Peterson Book Three of the Hope Diamond trilogy Publisher: Berkley Publication Date: June 2, 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): The author of The Millionaire Rogue returns to her dazzling series about a bygone era filled with romance, espionage, and one dangerously seductive diamond… Mr. Henry Lake spent the past twelve years uncovering the most scandalous secrets of Europe’s wealthy and powerful, serving as one of His Majesty’s most decorated spies. But when a mission to find the legendary French Blue diamond brings him back to London, and face to face with a beautiful noblewoman he once loved, it’s his own hidden passions that are uncovered… Lady Caroline, dowager Duchess of Berry, knows better than to lose her head over a man. After an embarrassing romantic entanglement forced her into a loveless marriage and early widowhood, she learned to never trust in desire, especially when it comes to the man who once broke her heart. Only, despite her good sense, she finds Henry impossible to resist—even when he once again places her in deathly danger… What I Liked: Ah! I've been meaning to post this review for a while now. Finals and studying and time and whatnot got away from me, and this book and review were a bit pushed to the side (as were many others). Moving forward! I have an obligation to the author as well as a desire to read this book, if only to find out what happens to the French Blue! In this novel, Henry Lake continues his search for the French Blue with Thomas Hope. His search leads him back to London, a place he left twelve years ago. Twelve years ago, the morning after his secret wedding and wedding night, he disappeared, without his new wife ever knowing why. Caroline Osbourne remarried after Lake disappeared, unwillingly, but for good reason. Now a widow, Caroline guards her against Lake and his return. But the two of them fall for each other all over again. When a choice arises, Lake must decide - the French Blue, or Caroline. I definitely liked Henry, much more than I liked Caroline. It was hard to like Caroline, and I'll explain why in a bit. Logically, I should feel more terribly for Caroline, but I think I felt worse for Henry. Both of them lost so much when he left. But when you find out why... yep, definitely felt worse for Henry. Even knowing Caroline's situation while he was gone. Henry is very loyal and brave, courageous and stubborn. He's an excellent spy, and very intelligent. If anyone can track down the French Blue, it would be him. Henry lost one of his eyes, as well as injured his leg, in his service to England, showing his dedication to his job. I know he is just as dedicated to his remarried-while-he-disappeared wife, because he stayed away for so long... Caroline, eh. See why I didn't really connect with her below. It was difficult, even though logically, I know I probably would have felt like she did in her situation at this point in history. We KNOW why Henry left her (well, not entirely, but we know it's for noble reasons and that he never stopped caring about her). And because we know, and Caroline doesn't, it's not necessarily her fault that she has hardened her heart against him for all these years. But still. It was difficult to connect with her. I like the story! Yet again, the mystery of this book had me enthralled. There are a lot of conflicts going on at once, starting with an ambush at a ballroom and the jewel being stolen, to death threats and duels and kidnappings and ransom. This book is full of action, which is a bit different from your average historical romance novel! It's not solely focused on the romance. The romance is... enjoyable, but not amazing. It's interesting to see romance from this angle - the couple was together for one night (which we get in the prologue), and then they don't see each other for twelve years. It's definitely fulfilling to see these two fall in love again, but given that I slightly resented Caroline, I wasn't entirely invested in the romance, though I knew the couple would end up together. The chemistry between the two sizzles, just as it did twelve years ago. I think I was more on board with both the story and the romance AFTER Caroline finds out why Henry left her (which she does, we all know it's bound to happen). Overall, I think this was an okay end to the series! The French Blue plot wraps up a little too perfectly, and the ending in general is way too perfect, but I guess that makes it a positive, happily-ever-after ending, which readers will love. What I Did Not Like: Like I said above, I found it hard to connect with Caroline. I understand that in her position - a recently married and jilted wife - she would have to remarry and whatnot. But two months later? Even given certain circumstances and the historic time period... it's not terrible to say no. It's not the end of the world to wait, or hope. It's not the worst thing in the world to believe in love. It just proved to me that Caroline is useless and needs a man to take care of her. Which, in these times, were mostly true, but it still didn't make it any easier for me to connect with her. So I didn't really connect with her. I started to "like" her more after she found out about why Henry left her, but even though, I was pretty much already solidly disliking her. I wish I could empathize with her more, but it was hard to do so. Her position does not make her likable to readers, though it is a position in which we might all understand (maybe). She didn't wait for Henry, and she didn't trust him when he came back to London. Theoretically I'd feel the same way but... it doesn't make me like her any more than I do. Another thing that bothered me was how perfect the ending was. I expected at least somehow to die! Especially given the violence and whatnot at the end of the book. No one died. Everything wrapped up so perfectly. Henry, Caroline, the French Blue... things were too tidy, too coincidental, too perfectly orchestrated. It's fine, but it's too sugary sweet, you know? I like a HEA as much as the next person, but that doesn't mean I like a HEA with heaven in my back pocket and a rainbow over my head. Things were just TOO great. Weird dislike, but one nonetheless. Also, there was little closure with the other two pairs from the series. I haven't read the first book, The Gentleman Jewel Thief, but I've read The Millionaire Rogue. Unless I'm mistaken, the three books run parallel to each other? Meaning, they occur at the same time? So I guess we wouldn't get closure on any of the characters because each of their stories end at the same time? I'm not really sure but that was confusing. Would I Recommend It: This series is an okay historical romance series! Mostly, I like it for the action and historic parallels, and then the romance part. These books are very fast-paced, high stakes type of novels, and I really enjoy reading to discover more about each book's mystery and plot of the series. The romance in THIS book wasn't amazing, but the romance in The Millionaire Rogue was lovely. If you're looking for a romance novel with more than just romance, this is definitely a series for you! I need to go and read The Gentleman Jewel Thief though - William is an... intriguing guy. Rating: 3.5 stars. I'm rounding up to 4 stars but it's a solid 3.5 stars from me. I'm sure I'll be looking out for more of Peterson's books in the future! Curious how this series is only a trilogy - most historical romance series are companion series that are as long as can be! Which I don't mind. In any case, I suppose we will have a fresh new series from Peterson at some point! I await that series. And a big thanks to her for second me this book! That in no way affected my opinion (as you can probably tell, I'm always overly honest).