The new novel in the Rogue Series from the New York Times bestselling author—and five-time RITA Award winner…
Lady Hermione Merryhew, daughter of an impoverished marquess, already has her share of problems. The last thing she needs is an intruder in her bedroom, especially not a fugitive thief. She should scream, but the shabby rascal is a man from her past.
Six years ago, at her first ball, dashing Lieutenant Mark Thayne failed to steal a kiss, but succeeded in stealing a little of her heart. She's older and wiser now. She can't toss him to the wolves. Besides, she wants that kiss.
Now Viscount Faringay, Mark has never forgotten Lady Hermione, but he mustn't involve her in his dangerous life. He's infiltrated the Crimson Band, violent revolutionaries who plan a bloodbath in London, and if he survives the night he will be able to destroy them. Hermione is involved, however, and only he can protect her.
About the Author
Jo Beverley was the New York Times bestselling author of the Rogue series and numerous other romance novels. Widely regarded as one of the most talented romance writers today, she was a five-time winner of Romance Writers of America’s cherished RITA Award and one of only a handful of members of the RWA Hall of Fame. She also twice received the Romantic Times Career Achievement Award. She had two grown sons and lived with her husband in England. Jo Beverley passed away in May 2016.
Date of Birth:September 22, 1947
Place of Birth:Morecambe, Lancashire, UK
Education:Degrees in English and American Studies, Keele University, Staffs, 1970
Read an Excerpt
RAVES FOR THE NOVELS OF JO BEVERLEY
Also by Jo Beverley
The church clock began to strike. Lady Hermione Merryhew prayed throughout the nine slow tolls that they wouldn’t wake the two boys in the big bed. She’d only just settled them.
At ages five and nearly three, Billy and Roger should have been asleep hours ago, but the family had been late to arrive here, and an inn was a novelty for them. It was a particularly noisy place, for the walls were thin, and even now she could hear indistinct conversation from one side and someone yelling out in the innyard. It was cheap, however, which had been the main consideration.
Even after their supper the boys had been bouncing with excited energy, but it was important they get a good night’s sleep. If all went well, tomorrow they’d arrive at Great-uncle Peake’s house, and rambunctious children could be disastrous. In the end she’d extinguished the candles and pretended she, too, was ready for bed.
That wasn’t far from the truth, but now that they were asleep, she needed a little time to herself. She’d lived with her sister and brother-in-law for the past year and enjoyed her niece and nephews, but she wasn’t accustomed to having sole charge of them. At least baby Henrietta was with her parents next door.
She would have liked to relight at least one candle and read a little, but it wasn’t worth the risk, especially with the bed-curtains still undrawn. She’d begun to draw them, but the rattle of the rings on the pole had caused Billy to stir. Let sleeping dogs lie, or rather, sleeping puppies. They looked such darlings now, their lashes resting on round cheeks, blond hair curling against the pillow, but there’d been moments when they’d seemed monsters.
Such folly to drag them on this journey, but her sister, Polly, had been willing to do anything to secure Great-uncle Peake’s money, and she’d been sure her darlings would turn the trick. After today, Hermione feared the children would have the opposite effect, and then she’d have to marry Cousin Porteous.
She began to take pins out of her hair, gloomily considering her fate. Porteous Merryhew was a distant relative who’d inherited her father’s marquessate. Hermione and Polly had wished him well of it, for her father, her grandfather, and his father before him had each been known as “the Moneyless Marquess.” Then, intolerably, Porteous had discovered coal on the Northumberland estate, and now he was on his way to being rich.
A month ago he’d written to Hermione to offer her the honor of becoming his bride, mentioning what a pleasure it would be to be in a position to be generous to her struggling sister’s family. “In a position.” He could be as generous as he wished right now, but no, he was using his money like bait in a trap.
She shivered, wishing she could indulge in putting more coal on the fire. There wasn’t much left in the scuttle, however, and it would be extravagant to order more. In any case, part of the shiver had been at the thought of marrying Porteous.
He wasn’t revolting—which was unfortunate. If he were, no one would expect her to marry him. As it was, he was a man in his forties of acceptable appearance, high rank, and growing fortune. Many would expect her to weep with gratitude, but she couldn’t imagine spending the rest of her life with such self-righteous pomposity. She especially could not imagine sharing the intimacies of a marriage bed with him.
He was a thin, abstemious man, who looked at rich food as if it were poisonous. If she became his wife, she’d never see a cake or a sauce again. His mother was just as thin as he and ruled the roost. She’d make any wife’s life intolerable. Above all, Hermione didn’t like Porteous. She wouldn’t harm her family by insisting on love in a beneficial marriage, but surely she shouldn’t have to marry someone she didn’t like.
She’d responded to his proposal with a request for time to think, claiming discomfort with his replacing her dead brothers. He’d not pressed his suit, but she imagined him now like a cat watching a mousehole, confident that she’d have to emerge into his claws in the end.
Please let Great-uncle Peake be as rich as we think, and please let our interpretation of his invitation be correct—that he’s dying and intends to leave his all to us, his only close living relatives. Please!
She was urging her wish upward to whatever powers attended to a selfish maiden’s prayers when the door to the corridor opened. She turned quickly to whisper to the servant to be quiet. But the man coming in was no servant. He closed the door, flipped the rotating bar into place, and then leaned his ear against the wood, listening.
Even from where she sat, Hermione heard rapid footsteps in the corridor and urgent voices. She stayed fixed in place, hoping the intruder would leave before noticing that she was there. Then she thought better of that and eased to one side, toward the poker.
He turned sharply, and across the room his eyes caught and reflected the light of the flame. Heart thumping, she grasped the poker and stood on guard. But rather than attacking or fleeing, he raised a finger to his lips in a clear shush gesture. Stunned, she couldn’t think what to do. She should shriek for help, but that would wake the boys. Even worse, anyone who ran to her aid might leap to scandalous conclusions.
And he wasn’t attacking her yet.
The room was lit only by firelight, which hardly reached his shadowy corner, but she could make out a tall man wearing an ordinary outfit of jacket, breeches, and boots, though he lacked a hat and his hair hung down to his collar. Who was he? What was he?
Rich man, poor man,
Beggar man . . .
As if he’d heard the thought, he turned toward her again.
She made herself meet his eyes, trying not to show the fear that had dried her mouth. She could hear no disturbance in the corridor now, so she jabbed a finger outward, mouthing, Leave! Or I’ll scream.
His response was to lean back against the door, arms folded.
She glanced at the door to Polly and William’s room, but it was in the wall closest to the invader. He could block her way in a couple of strides. She was going to have to scream.
Then two-year-old Roger stirred and whined, “Minnie . . .”
The man looked sharply at the big bed. Hermione dashed to put herself between him and the boys, poker in hand.
“He’s not really awake,” she whispered, “but you must go—now.”
He relaxed again. “I’m afraid that’s not quite convenient.” At least he, too, spoke softly, and with a surprisingly well-bred accent. That didn’t mean he was safe or honest. Times were hard for everyone.
“It’s not at all convenient for you to be here,” she said. “I will scream if you don’t leave.”
“You’d wake the children.”
“And the whole inn, including whoever is after you. Begone.” If he’d made a move toward her, she would have screamed, but it seemed an odd thing to do when he remained leaning against the door. “If you fear people inside the inn, leave by the window.”
He pushed off the door and walked with easy grace to look outside. “You think I have wings?”
She could escape through the door now, but she couldn’t abandon the boys. “I thought thieves were adept at such things.”
“That’s doubtless why I’m not a very good thief.” He turned to her and a touch of moonlight illuminated one side of a sculpted, handsome face, tweaking her memory.
Did she know the rascal? How could that be?
“The window looks onto the innyard,” he said, “and there are people down there. Someone would be bound to notice me scrambling down the wall, and then . . .” He drew a finger across his throat.
She sent him a look of powerful disbelief.
It must be playacting, but she didn’t want to be responsible for a death. “The corridor seems quiet now. Leave that way.”
“They’ll be watching. I’ll have to spend the night here.”
“You most certainly will not!” She was hard put not to shriek it.
“Minnie . . . I’m thirsty.”
Perhaps she’d raised her voice. Five-year-old Billy was sitting up. What would this desperate man do if the child saw him and cried out?
“I’m coming, dear.” Hermione sidestepped to the bedside, keeping an eye on the intruder, though she had no faith in her ability to hold him off, poker or not. In any case she had to put it down to get the water, but she kept half an eye on the intruder as she poured some into a glass and gave it to the lad.
Billy hadn’t noticed the man and was still mostly asleep. He drank, murmured thanks, and settled again. But he mumbled, “Want to go home.”
“Soon, dear,” she said, smoothing blond curls from his brow.
Six days would not be soon to a five-year-old, but it was the best she could offer. She took the risk of drawing the bed-curtains in the hope the boys wouldn’t be disturbed again.
“So you’re Minnie,” the man said, speaking as quietly as before.
She saw no reason to reveal her real name, so she agreed. “And yours, sir?”
It was more convincing than John or Henry, but it wouldn’t be real.
“Am I allowed to stay?” he asked.
“I won’t harm any of you.”
“Why should I believe that?”
“For no reason at all.”
Even so, her instincts said he was safe, which was ridiculous, except . . . Dear Lord, could it be . . . ?
“You could tie me up,” he said.
She started. “What?”
“If you tied me to that wooden chair, you’d all be safe and you could sleep.”
Still distracted, Hermione could hardly make sense of his words. “You imagine I travel with rope in my valise?”
“Stockings would do.”
“Not at all. Think about it.”
But instead she was thinking that he just might be, could possibly be, the dashing dance partner, the man who’d almost given her her first kiss, the soldier she’d never been able to forget. Thayne. Lieutenant Thayne. She’d never known his first name. It could be Ned, but if so, how had he sunk to such a state?
One thing was clear. If there was any possibility, she couldn’t eject him to possible death.
She forced her mind to clarity. “It won’t work. In the morning servants will come to build up the fire or bring hot water.”
“Servants won’t come until you summon them, and no one can enter if the doors are barred.”
He flipped the latch on the adjoining door, then walked to the chair. He moved it to face the fire and then sat down, presenting his back to her. She could pick up the poker and hit him over the head with it, except she would never do such a thing and apparently he knew it.
Did he know why?
That would mean that he’d recognized her just as she’d recognized him.
She’d attended her first true ball in May 1811, aged seventeen and giddy with excitement. She and her friends had spun to even greater heights when some young officers had arrived, having ridden five miles from their billets. Their gold-braided uniforms had sparkled beneath the hundreds of candles, but they’d stirred every lady’s heart because they were soon to sail to Lisbon to join Wellington’s army in the Peninsula. She’d felt their heroism strongly because one of her brothers, Roger, had been a soldier and had died at Corunna two years earlier.
The six young subalterns had not all been handsome or charming, but their regimentals had made them the stars of the night. One had been splendid, with a dramatic dark-haired, dark-eyed appearance uncommon in England, but so very common in the novels she’d loved back then. Someone had said he had French blood, but that hadn’t shocked her. There were a number of émigré families whose sons fought Napoleon.
She’d been thrilled when he asked for a dance, and felt queen of the ball when he’d later asked for a second. The waltz had not yet become acceptable, so they’d enjoyed only country dances, but the holding of hands and the occasional turn close together had been enough to sizzle her. After all, it had been her first true ball, and the first time she’d danced with a stranger.
No wonder she’d allowed him to coax her onto the moonlit terrace. When she’d realized they were the only ones out there, she’d trembled in the expectation of her first kiss and been a little disappointed when they’d only talked. Soon that had become magical. She didn’t know why it had been so easy, but she’d talked with him as she had never talked with anyone before or since, as if they were the oldest, closest friends.
She’d told him about Roger and his death, and about the trials of being poor.
He’d spoken of his need to defend Britain from Napoleon and of how his mother’s family had been slaughtered in the Revolution.
She’d complained of her parents’ fractiousness, her older sister’s temperament, and her brother Jermyn’s dull wits.
He’d said his mother was an invalid, but that his parents’ marriage was a great love match. That had led to a discussion of the nature of love and whether it was a rational or an irrational force. Dizzyingly deep waters for a seventeen-year-old. No wonder she’d never forgotten.
He’d been two years older and had lived the typical life of schools and sports, while she’d been educated by a governess and raised to be a perfect lady, yet there had been no barriers between them. She’d willingly let him cut a silk rose off the bodice of her gown to be his talisman, and she’d always treasured the brass button he’d given her in exchange.
They had been about to take the final step, to kiss, when her mother had rushed out to herd her back into the safety of the flock.
Despite her mother’s whispered scold, she’d known he was no wolf and when he and his fellows had left at midnight, she’d had to conquer tears. She’d heard no more from him, but then, he could hardly write to her and had probably not felt the encounter as much as she. But she’d dreamed, when she’d allowed the folly, of encountering him at another ball, both of them older, when there’d be more possibilities.
Never like this!
She walked round to study him. Everything was blurred by his unkempt hair and a dark beard shadow. His loosely knotted neckerchief didn’t help, especially in garish stripes of red, green, and black. The clean-cut features were older and harsher, but surely it was him.
He must have thought she was considering her actions, for he said, “My life truly is in danger if I’m caught, and I give you my word I’m not a villain. If you please, fair lady, tie me up and allow me to stay.”
“What’s your surname?” she demanded.
If he’d sunk to a life of crime, he’d use a false name. Thayne or Granger, she couldn’t send him out to his death, but if he stayed, she’d have to tie him up or she’d never sleep a wink. “Very well.” As she went to her valise, she probed for more information. “You don’t speak like a thief.”
“You don’t speak like a nursemaid.”
“I’m a governess,” she said, pulling out a pair of stockings. They were her best pair, however, and this business could snag them. She put them back and chose the most darned ones and approached the chair. “Put your hands behind you.”
“A good move,” he said approvingly, doing as told.
She knew nothing of tying secure knots, but surely multiple knots would do the job. She knelt to use one stocking to tie his wrists together against the central bar at the back of the chair.
“What’s your surname, Miss Minnie?”
“None of your business,” she said, disturbed by touching his hands. A lady didn’t handle any part of a man like this, and his hands were very fine—long fingered but strong. Nothing to help her recognition there. He’d worn gloves at the ball. A scar ran across the backs of the fingers of his left hand. Some mishap when picking pockets? Or in battle.
“What did you steal?” she asked.
“That could mean bonds, money drafts, or banknotes.”
“It could,” he agreed.
She yanked another knot tight. She’d almost used up the stocking. “Once you’re tied, I could search you.”
His fingers tensed. “I wouldn’t if I were you.”
Dangerous papers, then. With dangerous people after them, who might not hesitate to harm innocent children. She walked round to the front of the chair, the remaining stocking in hand, and studied him again. He met her eyes guardedly. Her heart pounded. Oh, yes, this was the man. Years older and eons more experienced, but this was the onetime Lieutenant Thayne.
He met her eyes braced for trouble.
Clearly he didn’t remember her. That hurt, but why should he? After the ball she’d had nothing of importance to distract her from memory and infatuation, but he’d gone to war. When not fighting, he’d doubtless dazzled and sweet-talked a score of girls in Portugal, Spain, and France, and forgotten every one. He’d probably thrown away the silk rose, having already forgotten what bodice he’d cut it from. Even if he remembered, why should he connect a dancing partner with a “governess” in a plain brown gown, whose hair was half in, half out of its pins? She was twenty-three years old. Well enough for her age, but there was a special glow to a pretty girl in her teens. Better he not remember. She knelt to tie his ankles together.
“I’d take the boots off first,” he said. “They might be loose enough for me to take my feet out of them.”
She was annoyed not to have thought of that. She needed to be clear witted, not enmeshed in girlish memories. “Thank you. Raise one.”
She grasped the boot and it came off easily. It was the sort a man could get into and out of without a servant, and there were other signs of poverty. The boot was well-worn, down-at-heel and scuffed, and when she had it off, his worsted stockings were darned in the heel. Lieutenant Thayne had been from a noble family headed by a Viscount Faringay. How sad to see him in poverty, but he wouldn’t be the only one.
The pay of army officers was barely enough to keep up the style of living thought suitable to their rank, and the half pay they got when they weren’t fighting only just kept body and soul together. Many had extra income from their families, but some, like Roger, hadn’t. His letters had often mentioned privations, though he’d made them part of the adventure.
His rare letters had presented army life as an enjoyable adventure, and she hoped that had been true. Though he’d been a man in her young eyes, he’d been only twenty when he died. She pushed such thoughts aside for fear of crying, but realized that the dashing officer of her dreams had been even younger six years ago. What had happened to bring him to this state?
“The other.” It came out more brusquely than she’d intended. “I’m tired and I want to get this done,” she added, dragging off the second boot.
“Now tie my ankles to the chair legs,” he said.
She dropped the boot to thump on the floor. “I don’t know why you don’t do it for yourself.”
“Untie my hands and I will.”
She glowered and returned to her task, but saw a problem. She needed to tie each ankle to a front leg of the chair and had only one stocking. She grasped the woolen stocking on his right leg and pulled it down.
A naked lower leg.
She’d seen such a thing before. Some workingmen did without stockings in the summer. Some poor ones did without shoes. All the same, in the intimacy of a firelit bedroom his bare calf made her quiver with embarrassment, and perhaps with something else.
“No need to risk more of my stockings,” she said, pulling it all the way off.
“None at all,” he agreed.
Did she hear humor? She wasn’t about to look up and reveal her blushes. She took off his other stocking, and then paused. The long, jagged scar down his calf swept away irritation. Whatever Thayne was now, he’d fought for their country and been wounded, perhaps even at Waterloo.
She tied his right ankle to one chair leg, finding his bulky woolen stockings more awkward, but unable to ignore his feet. She’d never thought about men’s feet, but his were excellent specimens with straight toes and no bumps or bunions. She felt sure Cousin Porteous had bumps and bunions.
The thought of tying Porteous to a chair pushed her perilously close to giggles and she bit her lip as she tied the other ankle. Thayne would think her ready for Bedlam. Eventually she stood and backed away to assess her work, nodding with satisfaction. He wouldn’t get out of that—which made her softhearted. “I hope you won’t be too uncomfortable.”
“I’m sure I will be, but needs must.”
“Yes, they must,” she said firmly, which was difficult with the atmosphere in the room—the atmosphere created by naked limbs, proximity, and memories. She couldn’t help it. She had to know more. She sat on the upholstered chair facing his. “Have you always been a thief?”
He gave an irritating impression of ease. “I assume not in the cradle.”
“Have you had any other means of survival?”
“Yes. What of you? The infants seem young for a governess.”
“Billy is learning his letters and numbers.”
“But you were born for better things.”
“Why think that?”
He cocked his head, considering. “I don’t know, but I’m sure of it.”
Was he remembering? “You, too, were born for better things,” she said.
“You weren’t born to be a thief. No one is.”
“I’m sure there are larcenous lineages. Our birth can direct and constrain our path. As yours did?”
Being born the child of an impoverished marquess had created many problems beyond the need for economy. People had always expected a grandeur and generosity they couldn’t afford, and some took exception to the lack of it. Some had sneered at the Miserly Merryhews. Others had thought them eccentric and perhaps even insane for their simple way of life. She’d spoken of these things that night.
“My story isn’t uncommon,” she said. “I’m wellborn but poorly funded, and I’ve chosen honest labor.”
“You or me?”
Perhaps he was chasing memories as she had—but then she remembered that she shouldn’t want him to remember. Despite that ball and their instant closeness. Despite that almost-kiss, dreams and longings, and a treasured button, she couldn’t afford entanglement with an impoverished criminal pursued by dangerous victims.
“Enough of this,” she said, standing. “Now you’re safe, I can go to bed.”
The word “bed” hung dangerously in the firelit room, especially with her nightgown draped over a nearby rack to warm. It was a perfectly decent voluminous garment of white linen, but its presence made everything wicked. She’d never had a man in her bedroom in her life except for the doctor twice when she’d had a fever. How was she to prepare for bed? The washstand was behind him, and there was a screen around it , but even so . . .
“I don’t have eyes in the back of my head,” he said, and yes, there was definitely a tease in it.
“I wish you’d invaded some other room, you wretch.”
“I, on the other hand, am happy with my choice.” Looking directly at her, he added, “Will you honor me with a kiss, sweet lady?”
The exact words he’d used six years ago.
They’d talked and they’d talked, and he’d claimed that rose, and then he’d tried to claim a kiss. She’d been so torn, yearning for her first kiss and feeling it her duty to grant the warrior his due, yet terrified that it would be the first step to ruin. His lips had barely brushed hers when her mother had “rescued” her. It would only have been a kiss, but back then she’d felt as if she’d escaped the fires of hell. And regretted it a little.
“A kiss won’t ruin you,” he said. That was the next thing he’d said that night, too. Before he spoke, she knew what would come next. “It might be the request of a man soon to die—Lady Hermione.”
Despite a racing heart, she managed to speak calmly. “We’ve been here before—Lieutenant Thayne.”
“Not quite, but we do have unfinished business.” Oh, that lopsided smile! She’d never forgotten that.
“It was a long time ago,” she said.
Unfinished business. That elusive kiss had haunted her dreams. She’d progressed as far as real kisses with other men, but pleasant or unpleasant, those kisses had never been the one.
“You’re bound,” she pointed out.
“Are you going to take advantage of it?”
The idea had never occurred until he mentioned it, but now it was irresistible.
“Probably,” she said, smiling as she stepped closer, heat spreading through her at the answering gleam in his eyes. Oh, this was wicked, but again there seemed no barriers of convention or propriety to save her from herself.
On the terrace he’d been taller, but now she looked down at him. He’d been the stronger one, but now he was her captive. He’d been in control, but now she had command. When she’d allowed kisses over the past six years, the men had played the masterful part once she’d permitted their attentions. This man couldn’t hold her, direct her, or keep her close if she wanted to retreat. He couldn’t escape her, either, and there was no mother to rush in and save her.
She rested a hand on his broad shoulder, vibrating at his strength and warmth, and lowered her head to press her lips against his.
Still kissing, but in the slightest way, she put a hand on his other shoulder, and then slid both to cradle his face. Warm skin and the roughness of whiskers, and his lips teasing at hers for more. She drew back to look at him, seeing clearly his long lashes around widening dark eyes.
He felt it, too, this wicked reversal. He, too, wanted more.
It will be my pleasure, sir.
She returned to her kiss, tantalizing him with butterfly touches until she could bear it no more and pressed hard against him. He opened to her, hot and moist, and she sank into that, exploring a new pleasure, for she’d never gone so far with any other man, and never in a situation like this. His tongue taught her new excitements and she almost drew back, but she couldn’t, wouldn’t.
She was in command.
He was safely bound.
She relaxed into magic, letting him explore as she explored, settling against him, trusting his strength. And she was lost—not in memory, but in something entirely new, something meltingly sweet and so deeply stirring that her heart beat like a drum and a demanding ache stirred deep inside. She tingled—no, burned!—all over and her breasts felt confined by her light corset.
Simply from a kiss.
She pushed away, then had to brace herself against his chest. She recovered, retreated, standing to smooth down her skirts. “I apologize. I shouldn’t have. . . .”
“Never has a lady transgressed so delightfully. Please, don’t stop for my sake.”
“There are children nearby!” She’d spoken too sharply and she froze, listening for a response from behind the bed-curtains, or even from the next room. How could people have slept though the earthquake that had rocked her?
She and her aching body wanted to return to destruction, but she grabbed her nightgown and fled behind the washstand screen, where she stood, breathing deeply, trying to regain sanity.
Merely from a kiss!
No wonder her mother had rushed her back into company. But then, it wouldn’t have been like that six years ago. They’d been different people and it had been a very different situation.
But now it was over. There must never, ever be anything like that again.
Even though he couldn’t see her, she couldn’t bear to take off any item of clothing. She’d undress in the concealment of the curtained bed even though that meant she couldn’t have a proper wash. In any case, she hadn’t rung for hot water and certainly couldn’t now, so she’d have to make do with the bit of cool water left in the jug from when she’d been putting the boys to bed. As she washed her face and hands, she tried to clean her mind as well.
She would not, could not, allow herself to be swept into disaster by lust, even if with a magical man from the past. She paused, towel in hand, dreaming, but then dried her face. Polly’s marriage showed that marrying an inadequate income was unwise, even for love, and Polly had married a baronet with an estate, not a threadbare thief!
Marriage. The tickle of temptation was warning enough. It’s been six years. You know nothing of him now, and all you do know is bad. Rolling her eyes at her own idiocy, she peered around the screen, just in case he’d managed to get loose, then hurried to bar the doors. But of course he’d done that earlier. If Polly tried to get in, she’d think it odd, but better that than Polly coming in before Thayne left. Despite him being tied up, despite Hermione having once known him, Polly would see only that her beloved children had been in danger, and she was inclined to overreact.
Perhaps it wouldn’t be an overreaction.
If her actions tonight were ever discovered, people would think her mad, even without the kiss.
But she couldn’t regret giving the onetime Lieutenant Thayne refuge from his enemies. Despite all logic, six years ago they had become friends, and even more than friends. If he hadn’t had to leave for the Peninsula, she knew they would have grown even closer. Despite his misfortunes he was still the same man at heart.
She didn’t regret that shocking kiss, for it had completed a circle, but in the morning she’d untie him and force him to leave, no matter what danger lurked for him.
She wanted no part of a criminal’s life.
Mark Louis Thayne, Viscount Faringay, smiled wryly at the low-burning fire. He’d survived his dangerous life by planning carefully and keeping a cool head, so how had he ended up tied to a chair in a lady’s bedroom? Being tortured in a lady’s bedroom by the rustling sounds from behind the curtains that clearly meant that Lady Hermione Merryhew was undressing.
She must be wearing the lightest of corsets to be able to undress without help and that explained the softness when she’d pressed against him in that kiss. A man became so used to the ridges and bones of a corset that the lack of them could make him lose his wits. As he had.
By Jupiter, that kiss. Nothing like the one they’d failed to achieve on that terrace six years ago. Once he’d recognized her, the years had evaporated and he’d seen in the plainly dressed woman the girl who’d enchanted him at his last English ball. Lady Hermione, glowing in pink and white and sparkling with anticipation and zest for life. After she’d granted him a second dance, he’d coaxed her out onto the terrace. He should be ashamed of his younger self except that he’d had no vile intent. The evening had been cool and everything still damp from a rain shower, so he’d known they might be alone out there, and he’d wanted her to himself.
She’d been as innocent as a lamb and expected to walk and talk. He hadn’t minded and he’d soon become lost in it. He’d never before or since felt such open ease with another person, and as they’d strolled back and forth, he’d found himself telling her about his parents, even about his mother’s peculiarities, something he’d rarely spoken of with anyone.
Perhaps it had been the thought of death that had lowered his restraint, for with youthful drama he’d anticipated a glorious one. Certainly that had been behind his request for a token to take into battle. The white silk rosebud, much battered by time, was in his breeches’ right-hand pocket, where it always lived. The thought of her finding it there if she’d searched his pockets had alarmed him, but it had done its job. He’d survived.
She’d demanded something in return and he’d cut off one of his buttons. Did she still have it? She seemed too sensible for that. Only then had he tried for a kiss, simply to seal the moment—the knight leaving his lady to go into battle.
It would have been the sweetest, most reverent kiss.
Their kiss tonight had been of another order, just as she was a different person and even more remarkable. But he could no more pursue her now than he had been able to back in 1811. Duty called then and it did now. What was more, he needed his wits and a cool head. He hadn’t lied about his peril.
He was in this room because of instinct and impulse. Both had won the day at times during the war. This time, he didn’t know. He could feel the stolen papers in his breeches pocket, but he hadn’t had the chance to read them, so he had no idea whether he’d risked everything for a good reason or not.
The day had gone as expected, with him playing a minor supporting role as Julius Waite had given speeches and accepted the adulation of the Ardwick crowd of weavers and other working people. They’d cheered Waite for his condemnation of corruption in high places and his demands for honesty and justice. They had no idea of his true plans—that he was paving the way for bloody revolution. Nor did Waite have any idea that Mark was not who he seemed, and had infiltrated his organization only to destroy it.
Waite’s organization was called the Three-Banded Brotherhood, after the flag of three colors adopted around Europe by revolutionaries. The prime example was the French Tricolore, but Waite’s flag was black, red, and green. Black for the pernicious current state, red for the blood that would destroy it, and green for the glory to come.
There were members of the Three-Banded Brotherhood throughout the country, numbering thousands. They wore the three colors in whatever way they could so as to recognize kindred spirits. This had been one of Mark’s first suggestions when he’d gained a place on the central committee, the Crimson Band. The committee had seized on the suggestion, not realizing how it could mark the members to the authorities. Mark had found that even the cleverest of them were blinded by their fanatical dreams. They’d stop at nothing, but Mark would stop at nothing to destroy them and their cause. From his mother’s experience, he knew what evil revolution had created in France. He had pledged his life that such horrors would never happen in England.
Now he had a new embodiment of his purpose. Hermione Merryhew, “aristo,” as the French revolutionaries would have called her, would never see her family murdered, or need to flee in terror, or face the guillotine’s bloody blade.
The papers in his pocket might at last be the key that would lead to the Crimson Band’s arrests, convictions, and deaths.
There were members of the Brotherhood all around Britain, but the Crimson Band was based in London, where they hoped revolution would erupt as the French one had in Paris. They’d traveled north to attend the ceremonies to commemorate the third anniversary of the death of Thomas Spence, hoping to inspire the crowd to march on London.
Spence had been a revolutionary, but of a more Utopian type. He’d never advocated slaughter or violence, but had wanted to completely reorganize England on egalitarian principles. He’d wanted land divided equally among all, and government by parish councils supervised by a national senate. Some of his plans might have worked in the Middle Ages, but not in the modern world of industry and cities.
Spence had worked for change with his pen and he must be weeping from on high to see his work exploited by men like Julius Waite and Arthur Thistlewood, who wanted total destruction of law and order. Waite was more subtle than Thistlewood, who’d been on trial for high treason earlier in the year. A shame he’d been acquitted, for he was half-mad and capable of extremes Waite and the Crimson Band would blanch at.
At the memorial service today Thistlewood had ranted, but Waite had spoken in his usual calm and noble manner, urging the return of habeas corpus, drawing on the fact that Spence had been unfairly imprisoned a number of times. It was a safe subject, for many of the most righteous in Britain felt the same way, but he’d managed to turn it toward a general criticism of the government without saying anything to rouse the crowd. Yet.
Tomorrow would be different.
Tomorrow, thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of people from all over this part of Lancashire would hear more Spencean speeches. Waite would again be moderate, but Thistlewood could be depended upon to let rip. With the crowd well seeded with Brotherhood members, the inflamed mob would set out for London on what would be called, apparently spontaneously, the Spencean Crusade. The name had been another of Mark’s suggestions, and applauded by the rest of the Crimson Band. Crusade or not, the marchers wouldn’t make it five miles, if they left Ardwick at all. The magistrates were ready and the military stood by.
There could be trouble in the town, however, for many of the Brotherhood would be armed, and he realized Lady Hermione and her family could be in danger. He was tempted to wake her and warn her, but she’d think him mad, and she and her party could hardly leave in the middle of the night. He’d stir alarm early in the morning—once he got out of here. He tested his bonds. He’d suggested stockings because they had stretch, but she’d tied them thoroughly. Getting free could take a while.
By the time the Crimson Band had sat to dine in a private parlor, they’d all been satisfied with the day. Waite, a gray-haired patrician man, had sat at the head of the table opposite his French wife, Solange. Despite her nationality, Solange Waite enhanced his apparent respectability.
Her public story was that she had fled France in the Revolution as upper servant to aristocratic émigrés. She claimed to have seen vile Jacobins at their murdering, pillaging worst. In fact she’d been a Jacobin herself and in private boasted of bloody deeds. She played her part well, however, emphasizing her solid, middle-aged respectability with sober clothing and decent white linen.
Pete Tregoven had been given the place of honor on Waite’s right, and Mark the seat on Waite’s left. The other two present had been Benjamin Durrant, scribe and speechwriter, and Isaac Inkman, the very odd young chemist.
Waite had begun the toasts with a reference to his choice of inn. “To the King’s Head. Soon we’ll have the king’s head off on our guillotine!”
Indeed, they had a beheading machine built and stored in a warehouse in East London, so everyone had drunk to that.
Solange had added, “And the head of the monkey-faced queen and her far too many whelps.”
The woman disgusted Mark, but he’d drunk and added, “Especially the fat Regent’s.”
“And his p-pampered daughter,” said Benjamin Durrant. “B-before her whelp is b-born.” Durrant was a bitterly frustrated man. He had the words to be a great orator, but his stutter betrayed him. He could only compose speeches to be delivered by men like Waite, who had the voice and manner, but no true oratory of their own.
Durrant might have had trouble commanding a crowd even without the stammer, as he was thin and bespectacled, with a high-pitched voice, but he blamed the injustice of fate. Perhaps that had turned him to the extreme of revolution, for in other respects he’d been given a comfortable life.
None of the men in the Crimson Band had suffered poverty or hardship, and they were all involved in revolution for their own gain. Waite intended to be a British Napoleon, rising from the ashes to rule. Durrant needed to hear his words move crowds to action. Tregoven was a wastrel in it for the spoils, and Inkman enjoyed blowing things up.
Only Solange was honest, and that made her the most dangerous of all. She proved it by saying, “If the revolution is delayed, we can make a grand display of dashing out Charlotte’s baby’s brains as we guillotine the mother.”
The other men smiled, though perhaps uneasily. For sanity’s sake Mark had established a distaste for crude violence, so he was able to say, “The child is an innocent. It can be reared by a simple family to be of use.”
“Its public death will be of more use,” Solange said. “You are weak, Granger.”
“I look to our main purpose. Many will be disturbed by the death of a child.”
“They will feel as we wish them to feel. Durrant will ensure that, won’t you, my friend?”
Durrant actually flushed with pleasure as he agreed.
Mark disliked them all, but he detested Solange Waite. He detested her vile plans, but he was revolted by her past for personal reasons. She’d been an ardent supporter of the revolution in France twenty-five years ago, and active in the worst times, commonly called the Terror. She claimed to have killed a number of “aristos” with her own hands, including women and children, and to have been present to see both the king and the queen lose their heads on the guillotine. She had dipped her fingers in their blood and smeared it on herself, and danced the day and night away in celebration. A celebration she hoped to repeat here.
Had she been present to see his uncles, aunts, and other relatives perish that way? Had she dipped her fingers in their blood? Such murder was why he’d fought Napoleon, and why he’d sunk himself into this work—to keep Britain safe from the bloody French.
How she’d come to marry Waite, Mark didn’t know, but she’d turned a muddled Spencean organization into a dangerous revolutionary one. Despite her sober appearance, she was the vicious goddess of the Three-Banded Brotherhood and Mark knew he should kill her. It might come to that, but he’d never killed anyone in cold blood and hadn’t yet been able to bring himself to do so. He planned to bring them before the law and see them all hang.
Dinner over, they set to a review of the day. It was tedious, for Waite was like an accountant about such things, going over and over details as if in search of a missed penny. He fretted about whether enough people would turn up tomorrow.
“They will flock to hear you speak, sir,” Pete Tregoven said, “and the Brotherhood members will bring their women and children as instructed, to deter any soldiers who are ordered to attack.”
Tregoven was a toadeater, who could be depended upon to stroke Waite’s pride. He dressed his wiry frame like a dandy and was overly fond of gaming and drink. His only useful service was as an artist. He created scurrilous cartoons showing royalty and government in the worst light, and noble illustrations of Waite addressing the multitudes. These were printed off and sent to Three-Banded Brotherhood groups around the country.
After a bit more fretting, Waite closed his record book and Mark hoped they were done, but Solange spoke again. “Isaac has something to say.”
Solange had found Isaac Inkman early in the year and brought him into the Crimson Band despite objections. She appeared to dote on him, and perhaps she did, for he knew a lot about the destructive capabilities of chemistry. He was a pale, pudgy young man who hardly ever spoke for himself and now his eyes shifted. Mark thought he wouldn’t say anything, but then his eyes flickered with excitement.
“Exploding letters,” he said.
“A, B, C?” queried Tregoven with a sneer.
“Correspondence,” said Solange coldly.
“A damp letter,” Isaac said. “When it dries . . . bang!”
Even Waite seemed unimpressed. “How is it damp, Isaac?”
“Sent damp. In an oiled pouch.”
It sounded idiotic, but Mark didn’t underestimate Isaac’s notions. None had proved effective yet, but all were alarming.
Solange took up the explanation. “When the recipient opens the pouch and finds the letter damp, he will set it to dry so as to be able to read it. Perhaps even by the fire.”
More interested, Waite asked Isaac, “How big a bang?”
“Shattered a pot nearby. Set things alight.”
“Imagine if the recipient was actually holding it,” Solange said. “The prime minister, for example.”
Good God. “It won’t explode in the prime minister’s hands,” Mark said.
“It will if we plan it correctly,” Solange said.
“Why not?” Waite asked, but attentively.
When Mark had infiltrated the Three-Banded Brotherhood three years ago, he’d known he wasn’t actor enough to pretend to be lowborn, even with a scruffy appearance, so he’d constructed a story of being a lord’s by-blow. He claimed to have been raised by the family but then unfairly ejected, which had given him a hatred of the nobility and a thirst for their blood. Waite had liked the idea of a scion of the nobility in their midst, and Mark’s knowledge of that world was part of the reason he’d been brought into the inner circle. His other skill was organization. Good thing none of them knew that had been honed in the army.
“Such a man doesn’t open his own correspondence,” Mark said. “The damp letter will either be discarded or left to dry by a secretary or clerk.”
That had them all frowning. Thank God.
Waite said, “It is an intriguing idea, Isaac. We’ll think more about it. . . .”
“Love letters,” Solange interrupted. “A perfumed billet-doux. Might not that be opened by even a prime minister, and be set to dry by him?”
“Not all men have secret lovers,” Mark said.
Solange smirked. “If they don’t, they wish they did. They will wish to see.”
Mark had to admit that to be possible, silently damning the woman.
“Isaac must work on this immediately,” Solange said. “Only think of such devices exploding all over London on the day the Spencean Crusade arrives there and the mob pours out to join them. Rioters smashing windows, armed mobs breaking open the prisons as we did the Bastille, and at the same time key men alarmed, perhaps even crippled by Isaac’s letters. It will be glorious!”
“It will achieve our end,” Waite said, trying for a more sober note, but with the same glitter in his eyes. “My dear, you and Isaac must travel to London with all speed to prepare the letters. Granger, you know the world of the powerful. You will go with them to choose the targets and decide how best to ensure the men open the letters themselves.”
Returning to London quickly fit in with Mark’s plans, but he had no intention of traveling with Solange. “We could set out on the night mail coach,” he said, knowing what the reaction would be.
“Me, I do not travel on an overnight coach.” Solange had a terror of being outside four strong walls at night, probably because of a guilty conscience. “Tomorrow will be soon enough.”
“You follow on, then,” Mark said. “I’ll go ahead and get things under way.”
“An excellent plan,” Waite said.
Tregoven was eyeing Mark. “Not sure why you came north, Granger. We’ve needed no fancy organization here.” Tregoven had been tossing darts like that recently. The Crimson Band was aware that the government had spies within subversive organizations, and they were alert for a traitor in their midst.
“Plans can go awry,” Mark said.
“With you around?” Tregoven asked.
“Information seems to be leaking fast these days.”
“If any of us is suspect, it should be the one who can’t resist cards and dice.”
Tregoven half rose, but Waite waved him back into his seat. “We will not bicker on the brink of victory. There need not be a traitor around this table. In fact, I can’t imagine how that might be. There will be agents in this inn simply because I am here, but they will discover nothing unless we allow cracks in our unity.”
“Or speak t-too loud,” said Durrant.
He’d pointed out the thin walls and suggested dining elsewhere, but Waite hadn’t liked the implication that he’d chosen their meeting place poorly. He’d instructed his bodyguards, the Boothroyd brothers, to stroll up and down the corridor in case anyone paused to listen at the door. This parlor was bracketed by the two bedchambers used by Waite and his wife. Mark did wonder whether the marriage was consummated. It was a strange mating.
The security arrangements were inconvenient, as Mark had a few new details about tomorrow he must pass on. He would dearly like to know more about the exploding letters, in particular the chemicals Isaac planned to use, but saw no way to ask and the meeting was over.
He rose. “I must pack and buy a ticket.”
Waite blessed him with a smile. “We all know your fine mind will ensure success in London, Granger.”
“If the Spencean Crusade arrives, sir, London will be primed and ready to explode.” Mark picked up his wineglass, which still contained an inch. “To the revolution!”
They all repeated the toast and drank, but Solange made her own toast. “À la lanterne!” The old cry of the vicious Jacobins. Hang the enemies from the lampposts—men, women, children, they hadn’t cared.
Everyone else rose, rolling shoulders, gathering papers, but Waite asked Durrant to remain to discuss messages to be sent along the route.
Mark turned to the door, but heard Solange say quietly, “Il y a une autre question à discuter.”
Waite and his wife often spoke in French between themselves and none of the others thought anything of it. None of them spoke much French, but Mark had had a French mother and spoke it well. He’d kept that secret, which had enabled him to pick up a number of details not revealed to the others. Such as the fact that Solange now had something else she wanted to discuss with her husband.
Waite turned to Durrant. “Isaac deserves a drink, my friend. Take him below for some gin. I’ll send for you soon.”
Durrant pulled a face, but he steered Isaac out of the room.
Tregoven approached Waite, doubtless with some oily words of praise. If there was a traitor here other than himself, he’d pick Tregoven, who’d sell his mother for money, but at the moment he was being useful. He was delaying the private words between Waite and his wife.
If Mark didn’t immediately prepare for his departure, someone might notice, so he left the room. Nathan Boothroyd was patrolling the corridor. His brother, Seth, was nowhere in sight.
The Boothroyd brothers were close to identical—stocky, muscular young men with limited brains, but well able to follow commands. Mark thought of them as dogs—short-legged, muscular hunting beasts, but for some reason they always dressed well. Nathan was in brown jacket and breeches, striped waistcoat, white cravat, polished boots, and tall beaver hat.
“You can go now,” Mark said. “The meeting’s over.”
The square face showed no expression and Nathan went into the room to confirm the order. Very well-trained beasts. Mark hurried on his way, hoping Waite dismissed the guards.
He entered the room he was sharing with Durrant, shoved belongings into his valise, and then ran down and across the road to the George and Dragon, a much grander place where the London coach would halt. He bought a ticket, left his bag there, and hurried back to the King’s Head.
When he entered, he saw both Boothroyds coming downstairs. They went into the taproom, and a glance showed Durrant and Isaac already in there. Surely Waite would have dismissed Tregoven quickly when his wife clearly wished to speak to him.
No time to waste.
He went upstairs and turned into the corridor toward Waite’s parlor, but then ducked back out of sight. Tregoven had just left the room. Fortunately the man needed to go in the opposite direction to reach his own room, but Mark resented every second it took for him to do so.
Once the corridor was empty, he hurried to the parlor door, hoping the flimsy structure of the King’s Head would allow him to hear. He wasn’t optimistic. Conspirators spoke softly.
However, the words were clear. Waite and Solange must feel safe when speaking French. He felt lethally exposed standing there with his ear to the door, but if anyone came, he would knock and say he had a final question.
“Revolution is not for the softhearted,” Solange was saying, with a sneer in the tone.
They were arguing?
“May I remind you that your revolution failed, perhaps because the bloodbath became too deep for most.”
“It failed because it was betrayed! By those who saw only a vehicle for their own aggrandizement.”
Tregoven had recently portrayed Waite in a toga and crowned with a laurel wreath, but he didn’t react to the words. Instead he said, “We are pure of purpose.”
A pause made Mark take a step back in case one or the other came to the door.
But then Waite said, “Need you have put Isaac’s plans in writing? Such a document could hang us all.”
“Plans seem to fly out of his head as quickly as they fly in, and this must not be lost. The details are beyond my memory.”
“Even so . . .”
“The notes will be safe with me. You foolish men respect women too much.”
“Not generally,” Waite said drily.
“Most respect the sober, middle-aged lady, and all of you underestimate women’s brains. Even if they imprison us all, they’ll never imagine I know anything of importance. I’m a mere wife. An appendage, and too decent to search.”
“If they suspect you, they’ll find a woman to search you.”
“I won’t hide them in a pocket, silly man.” Mark was astonished by the scathing dismissal in Solange’s voice.
“Where, then?” Waite asked. “Come, Solange, if anything happens to you, I need to know.”
“Very well. I have a secret section in the lining of my spare corset. A very stiff, whaleboned corset. Nothing will be found there unless it’s ripped apart. I must go now to prepare.”
Mark hastily retreated, but he did it backward in case the door opened before he could reach the bend in the corridor. Just as well.
Solange came out and stared at him. “Not on your way yet?”
“A final question. Waite is still in there?”
“Yes. Bonne nuit.”
Mark only just stopped himself from responding in French. He hoped his hesitation would fit with confusion over the switch in language. He simply bowed to her, but as she went into the room next door, he wondered whether that had been a test. Solange was a very clever woman, and she wouldn’t hesitate to order the Boothroyds to dispose of anyone she believed a traitor. His predecessor in the Crimson Band had been found beaten to death in an alley. If she suspected him, stealing her notes might be even more dangerous than he’d thought, but he had to do it. Now he had to speak to Waite first.
He knocked and entered to find Waite looking worried. Perhaps he was having doubts about his wife. The more distrust among the Crimson Band, the better. “What do you want?” he asked curtly.
Mark asked a few pointless questions.
“You’re becoming fretful, Granger. Losing your nerve?”
“Only concerned that everything goes perfectly this time. We’ve had bad luck recently. The attempt to assassinate the Regent. The Blanketeers. The plan to explode the armory.”
“Bad luck or betrayal, and the suffering in the country won’t last forever.”
“I can’t help hoping it won’t.”
Waite sadly shook his noble head. “You have too tender a heart, Granger. Remember that everyone will benefit when the rot is dug out and the state is whole again. Even amputation is to be blessed if it heals the patient.”
“Thank you for reminding me, sir. We will meet again in glory in London.”
Waite straightened, a new light in his eyes. “Yes, this time we will succeed. You will see wonders.”
Mark lingered, hoping Waite would let something slip about the wonders, but that was all, so he had to leave. He hesitated outside Solange’s room, but there were things he must do before attempting to get the details of Isaac’s new idea. He had new nuggets of information about tomorrow’s gathering to pass on, so he found a quiet corner and wrote them down.
He advised the magistrates to move in early but handle the true Spenceans as gently as possible. Oppressive force would be oil on the fire and Waite was ready to exploit that. He considered adding a warning about exploding letters, but that danger was directed at London and he’d carry the news himself—if all went well. He rolled the paper thinly and tucked it beneath the cuff of his shirt. He went downstairs, hoping it would take Solange a long time to unpick and then repair her spare corset.
He strolled into the taproom and ordered a glass of punch. As he sipped, he looked around idly and soon spotted his contact. Tom Holloway was sitting at a table close to the fire, and not by chance. There’d be nothing suspicious in another man going to warm himself nearby.
By the stocky, middle-aged man sat a book, half-hanging off the table, again not by chance. Mark walked toward the fire and knocked the book to the floor. Apologizing, he picked it up, replaced it, and moved on to enjoy his drink in the fire’s warmth, his note passed on.
He must linger for a few precious minutes, just in case he was watched, though the only Crimson Band member here now was Isaac, abandoned by Durrant. Isaac was sipping gin and staring blankly at the wall. At moments like this the young man looked such a dull pudding. Would that he were.
Mark checked his pocket watch. Twenty minutes till the mail coach passed through, and it wouldn’t linger for a missing passenger. He should go upstairs, but could he get more information out of Isaac? He had to try, and with luck Holloway would catch a bit of the conversation.
Mark went over. “That ABC stuff. I don’t think it’ll work.”
“What do you know?” Isaac muttered.
“No one of importance will open them,” Mark said. “So they won’t have any impact.”
Isaac smirked. “Wait till you hear about the gas.”
“The gas?” Mark asked loudly.
Isaac scowled and sipped his gin. “None of your business.”
Mark leaned in to speak quietly. “It is if you’ll need new supplies in London. I’m off soon and I’ll be there a full day ahead.”
Tell me what you need and it might tell other chemists what you’re up to.
“Oh, I’ll have what I need,” Isaac said, with a hint of sly humor.
Mark would dearly love to question him more, but neither Solange nor the mail could wait. He drained his glass, took leave of the young man, and went upstairs, trying to come up with a devious plan. He failed. Brute force be it, then. He opened the first door he came to. A half-dressed man turned, startled.
“My apologies!” Mark said, and moved on.
The next one rattled against a latch and someone called, “What do you want?”
Mark moved on, hoping that person wouldn’t bother to open the door to look out. The guest didn’t, but luck could last only so far.
He heard voices in the next room but silence in the one after. He again went in, ready to apologize, and at last found a deserted room. He took a pillowcase off one pillow, rearranged everything, and went on to Solange’s bedchamber. The first danger was that Waite had joined Solange there, but that seemed remote. The next was that he’d lingered in the parlor, with only a thin wall between.
That was in the lap of the gods.
Mark approached Solange’s door, unable to slow his heart rate.
This could go wrong in so many ways.
He could easily lose his hard-won position in the Crimson Band and could even lose his life. The risk was worth it, however, and it felt good to be taking direct action instead of conniving. Spying from within the Three-Banded Brotherhood was surprisingly tedious work.
A couple came out of a room and he had to stroll in an opposite direction until they turned to go downstairs. Once they had, he returned to the parlor door, steadying himself as he approached. He knocked, then flattened himself against the wall.
Solange opened it. “What?”
As she stepped out to look, he pulled the pillowcase down over her head and bundled her back into the bedroom, kicking the door shut. As he’d hoped, she was fighting rather than screaming and he saw why. She wouldn’t want people to see the folded papers on the table along with a partially unpicked corset and sewing things.
He picked her up and flung her on the bed, then rolled her up in the woolen coverlet. It wasn’t easy. She might look like a soft matron, but she was sturdy and strong. Breathing hard with the effort, he tucked her up tight, grabbed the papers, and left. He was halfway toward the stairs and escape when he heard another door open behind him.
He tried the door by his left hand and thank God, it opened. He went inside and closed it, heart thundering. When he looked around, he saw yet more good fortune. The room was in use but lit only by a low fire, and if the occupants were there, they were in the half-curtained bed asleep.
He pressed his ear to the door and heard Solange say sharply in French, “The papers. They’re gone!”
Jupiter, it had been Waite, and Solange had freed herself far faster than he’d hoped.
Then, distantly, he heard the clarion call of the London mail. He could just make it if he ran, but he was trapped here. The Waites could still be in the corridor, and even if not, he could bump into any of the Crimson Band on his way through the inn and the game would be up.
His only option was to stay concealed. They’d assume he’d left on the coach and thus could not be the thief. He’d stay in this room until the inn was sleeping and then slip away.
That was when he’d heard something behind him and turned to find a lady arming herself with a poker.
Hermione had been desperate for sleep, but she lay awake, aware of the man so near. She felt turned inside out and not herself at all.
She sat up, being careful not to disturb the boys, and fumbled among the clothes she’d laid over the bottom of the bed. She found the belt of her pair of pockets and drew them toward her. She reached inside the right-hand one and brought out the cool, hard disk. She didn’t need light to know it was a military button.
After the ball she’d never mentioned Lieutenant Thayne to anyone, because everyone would think the intensity of her feelings idiotic. But in private she’d relived their time together and often taken out the button to polish and cherish, hoping her silk rosebud would be the talisman he’d hoped.
She’d imagined him traveling to Portsmouth to take ship. She’d known nothing of the way soldiers were transported to war and had never traveled by ship, so from then on, she’d had only vague notions and prayers. She’d heard of major battles, of victory and loss, but her family took only the local newspaper, so she’d known he could be in the casualty lists and she’d never find out. Surely, though, she’d know in her heart if he was dead.
She’d tried to draw his image, but her efforts were too inadequate to keep. Over time her memories had weakened so she hadn’t been sure what was true or false, and inevitably her emotions had become less raw. But she’d never forgotten. From that day she’d always carried the button, and at times she’d taken it out and prayed that he be alive and happy, somewhere in the world. She’d never prayed that they meet again, for through family strife and death she’d lost all faith in fairy stories.
Yet here he was, on the other side of the heavy, musty curtains.
There was still no fairy story, however. She was an impoverished spinster, dependent on her sister’s husband for a roof over her head. He was a down-at-heels thief. Such logic didn’t help. All the magic had returned—the connection that made it effortless to share her thoughts, and gave such pleasure simply from his company.
And then there’d been that kiss. Far more of a kiss than she’d dreamed of six years ago, but proof that the situation wasn’t a fairy tale at all. He was real. Their connection was real. Their earthy passion was desperately real.
She couldn’t, wouldn’t, do anything about that, but the thought of him tied uncomfortably to a chair wouldn’t let her sleep. When the clock tolled eleven, she gave up. She put the button back in the pocket and slid out of the far side of the bed to put on her slippers and brown woolen robe. She hesitated then, but she was more covered, neck to toe, than in most of her daytime clothes, and it was dark. The fire must have gone out and only moonlight lit the room.
As she fumbled her way toward the back of the chair, he said, “What?” perhaps alarmed.
“I’m going to untie you,” she murmured, kneeling behind him to undo his hands.
“Is that wise?”
She unpicked the first knot. “You won’t hurt us.”
“You can’t be sure of that.”
“Are you going to scold me? If so, I’ll leave you as you are.”
“Then I should.”
“Oh, be quiet. A pest on these knots. Why did I tie so many?”
He didn’t respond and she lost patience. She found her sewing kit and used the small scissors to hack at the stocking until it fell free.
She went round to the front, but rubbing his wrists, he said, “I’ll do the legs. I have no other pair.”
Excerpted from "Too Dangerous for a Lady"
Copyright © 2015 Jo Beverley.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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“It is wonderful to be immersed again in the world of the rogues.”—Heroes and Heartbreakers
“Exquisitely sensual…refreshingly different.” —Booklist
“Jo Beverley is a master of her trade.”—Fresh Fiction
“Jo [Beverley] has truly brought to life a fascinating, glittering, and sometimes dangerous world.”—Mary Jo Putney
“Wickedly delicious. Jo Beverley weaves a spell of sensual delight with her usual grace and flair.”—Teresa Medeiros
“Wickedly, wonderfully sensual and gloriously romantic.”—Mary Balogh
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I really enjoyed this novel! It seems that so few Regency novels include such fascinating plots to go along with the romantic interests. I appreciate when a romantic interest does not diminish the excitement of the intrigues of the plot. The only other novel that delivered in such an intricately beautiful manner was Blind Man's Bluff Black Butterfly by Maria York.
usually i cannot put Jo Beverly's books down ..... but this one is sluggish ..... it is not a easy read .... the story content is good .. but it just moves so slow...