New York Times bestselling author Liz Carlyle continues her enthralling historical series with the story of an impetuous, illegitimate beauty and the forbidding nobleman who protects her—while fighting an obsession to possess her.
Miss Zoë Armstrong is beautiful, charming, rich—and utterly unmarriageable. So, while she may be the ton's most sparkling diamond, her choice of husbands looks more like a list of London's most unsavory fortune hunters. Since a true-love marriage seems impossible, Zoë has accepted—no, embraced—her role as society's most incomparable flirt and mischiefmaker...until in one reckless, vulnerable moment, her future is shattered.
Stuart Rowland, the brooding Marquess of Mercer, has been part of Zoë's extended family since she was a child. As dark and cynical as Zoë is lively, Mercer has always known they would be the worst possible match...until his scapegrace brother Robert does the unthinkable, and winds up betrothed to Zoë. Now, secluded on Mercer's vast estate to escape a looming scandal and the ton's prying eyes, Zoë and Mercer may find that a dark obsession has become a tempestuous passion that can no longer be denied...
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About the Author
During her frequent travels through England, Liz Carlyle always packs her pearls, her dancing slippers, and her whalebone corset, confident in the belief that eventually she will receive an invitation to a ball or a rout. Alas, none has been forthcoming. While waiting, however, she has managed to learn where all the damp, dark alleys and low public houses can be found. Liz hopes she has brought just a little of the nineteenth century alive for the reader in her popular novels, which include the trilogy of One Little Sin, Two Little Lies, and Three Little Secrets, as well as The Devil You Know, A Deal With the Devil, and The Devil to Pay. Please visit her at LizCarlyle.com, especially if you're giving a ball.
Read an Excerpt
The utter silence that hung expectantly over the card table was broken only by the distant clack!-clackity!-clack! of a roulette wheel somewhere in the depths of what had once been an elegant ballroom. But the merchant who had built the brick mansion two decades past had long since bankrupted himself on ironically a turn of the cards. And now, in the smokehazed gaming hell, over the merchant's former dinner table, a collective gasp held sway.
The swell of her ivory breasts shifting beneath her plunging bodice, Lufton's dealer leaned over the polished mahogany. The last card fell as if through water, sent floating from Mrs. Wingate's slender fingers like an autumn leaf seeking the rot and ruin of an earthly end.
The ace of hearts.
The collective gasp burst into exhalation, then into reluctant applause.
"Well played, my lord!" For the fifth time in as many hands, Mrs. Wingate pushed a pile of ill-got gains toward the Marquess of Mercer. "Will you try your luck again?"
With a stiff nod, the marquess relaxed into his chair, his silver cheroot case glittering in the lamplight as he withdrew it. Standing behind him, Mercer's mistress settled a hand anxiously upon his shoulder. He ignored it, lit a cheroot, and kept his eye on the man who sat opposite, for the scent of feverish desperation was growing thick in the air. He had been driving Thurburn relentlessly these past three hours, and now, as dawn neared, the signs of strain were telling.
Mrs. Wingate finished her deal. Mercer drew middling cards, and decided to leave well enough alone, blowing out a long plume of smoke as the other three gentlemen drew again. He watched assessingly the small bead of sweat which trickled south, catching in the fine hair of Thurburn's left eyebrow. Mrs. Wingate turned up a queen, and the gentleman fell back into his chair with a groan. "I'm out."
"Oh, your luck's what's out, old chap!" Beside Thurburn, Colonel Andrews grinned. "Got to come back soon, what? Probability, and all that rot."
In the end, the remaining players drew hands no better than Mercer's. Mrs. Wingate smiled almost beatifically. The house held a pair of nines and a deuce. Mercer inclined his head. "Madam, we congratulate you."
Suddenly, the strain broke. Thurburn tossed back what was left of Lufton's very fine cognac and pushed away. "The hour grows late," he murmured, only the faintest tremble of his hand betraying him. "Gentlemen, I bid you good night."
The late hour, of course, had nothing to do with it. Thurburn and his coterie were regulars at Lufton's, and nothing but desperation drove them from their gaming tables before dawn. The man was edging near insolvency which suited Mercer's purposes very well indeed.
Amongst the hoots and derision of Thurburn's comcarlyle panions, Mercer lifted one finger. The insults died away, and Thurburn's eyes lit with hope. "Yes?"
"You are on your way out, I realize," said Mercer quietly. "But I wonder...could you perhaps be persuaded to a small private wager before you go?"
His gaze suspicious, Thurburn hesitated. "What did you have in mind, Mercer?"
The marquess feigned a look of utter boredom, a skill well honed. "You have in your possession, I believe, a certain trinket belonging to the Vicomtesse de Chéraute? One which you won from her earlier in the evening?"
Behind him, Claire gave Mercer's shoulder a faint squeeze. Something like fear flitted behind Thurburn's eyes. "The hand was fairly played, sir."
"To be sure," said the marquess coolly.
Thurburn's gaze flicked up at Claire, a faint, sour smile curving his mouth. "Ah, wants it back, does she?"
Mercer crooked one dark eyebrow, and turned to look over his shoulder. "Madam, your wish?"
Claire shrugged. "Alors la, 'tis but a trifle," she said with Gallic disdain. "But oui, if you should like to play for it, why not?"
If he should like to play for it?
Mercer resisted the urge to shove her hand from his shoulder. Claire's desperate missive, sent round to his Mayfair house near midnight, had been spotted with her tears and sealed with her kiss. The whole of it reminded him yet again of her inherent guile and her incurable fondness for gaming.
He managed to smile up at her. "One hates to see you deprived of so much as a bauble, my dear," he said. "What do you say, Thurburn? A quarter of my night's winnings against the necklace? Of course, if you win, your companions will no doubt implore you to remain at the table tiresome, to be sure."
Thurburn licked his lips avariciously. He was more prideful, Mercer knew, than his cohorts, and perhaps hesitant to stake plunder so recently won, thereby all but admitting to an empty purse. But Mercer helped along by the competent Mrs. Wingate had been systematically stripping the man of cash, and in this poor light, flushed with a copious amount of brandy, Thurburn could not be entirely confident of the necklace's worth.
"Half your winnings, my lord," Thurburn proposed, drawing his chair back to the table with an ominous scrape. "What do you say?"
With a smile, Mercer reached up, and patted Claire's hand. "I'm a fool, I daresay, for I have a fondness for the trinket, even if the vicomtesse does not," he said. "As I often remind her, that little ruby drop in the center quite puts me in mind of "
"My lord!" Claire snapped out her fan and began to ply it vigorously.
Mercer lifted one shoulder, then nudged half his winnings forward. Thurburn rummaged in his pocket, extracted the strand of perfectly matched rubies, and laid it upon the table with a faint clatter.
Mercer looked at Mrs. Wingate. "Madam, will you oblige us?"
The woman nodded and extracted a fresh pack. "The dealer abstains," she said, cutting it cleanly. "This once."
Her message was clear. Lufton's made no money on a private wager. Good clients were to be indulged from time to time, but if they wished to continue, they must go elsewhere. It little mattered, for Mercer meant to finish this business now.
Mrs. Wingate dealt the first two passes, the initial cards down. Thurburn drew a deuce, Mercer a three. An unpromising start. Mercer tipped up the corner of his first card and felt Claire's nails dig into his shoulder.
Mrs. Wingate cocked a brow in Thurburn's direction. The gentleman smiled confidently, and touched the back of his card. Mercer followed suit. A six of clubs and a four of hearts fell, respectively. Mercer cursed inwardly.
"Small fish, sir, small fish!" warned Colonel Andrews, who sat nearby.
Again, the dealer offered. Thurburn nodded. Mrs. Wingate laid a ten of diamonds before him. The crowd groaned. She turned her gaze on Mercer, a hint of warning in her eyes. A fourth card, he knew, was most dangerous. But there was something something in Thurburn's face. Yes, that faint twitch at one corner of his mouth. It was telling, for Mercer had been closely observing the bastard all night.
Swiftly, he ran through the odds admittedly bad then cast one last look at Thurburn's hand. A respectable eighteen. And still he sat, unmoved. Knowing it was at once sheer folly and yet his only alternative, Mercer nodded.
The four of diamonds fell.
The crowd about the table bent expectantly nearer. With a satisfied smile, Thurburn flipped his first card, another deuce. Colonel Andrews patted a heavy hand upon Mercer's shoulder. "Bad luck, eh?"
Mercer softly exhaled, then, with the corner of the four, flipped his first card.
The jack of spades.
"Mon Dieu!" Claire cried.
The applause broke out yet again as Mrs. Wingate's eyes widened. "Your luck is indeed prodigious, my lord," she murmured.
Claire seized his hand and drew him from the table, Mercer sweeping up the tangle of rubies as he went.
Moments later, Lord Mercer and his mistress stood but inches apart in one of Lufton's private chambers, rooms that were set aside for patrons who were too inebriated to make their way home, or who found themselves otherwise in need of a firm mattress. The fact that the gaming hell kept a carriage harnessed and a list of London's best prostitutes to hand was certainly not lost on their customers. Anything to keep a pigeon from flying Lufton's finely feathered nest.
Claire circled around Mercer, drawing her long, clever fingers across his back as she went. "La, monsieur, once again you have rescued your damsel in distress," she murmured. "How, I wonder, am I to show my appreciation tonight?"
"By promising to never again wager your husband's family jewels," he snapped.
But Claire was too intoxicated on gaming and champagne to sense the seething anger inside Mercer. She trailed her fingertips across the breadth of his chest, then twirled about like a ballerina, rubies dripping from one hand. "Mon Dieu, my lord, you sound like my husband and what is the pleasure in that, I ask?"
"Pray stop twirling about, Claire, and sit," he ordered. "I wish to speak with you."
Claire's bottom lip formed a perfect moue as she paused, lowering her gaze with a sweep of dark lashes. "No, you wish to chide me," she corrected. "Alors, I have it!" She glanced up, her blue eyes alight with mischief, her clever fingers going at once to the fall of his trousers.
"Claire," he said warningly.
But she had already sunk down onto her knees, the pale pink silk of her gown puddling about his shoes. "Oui, I will reward you with this my special skill, which you like very much, n'est-ce pas?"
Mercer fisted one hand in her hair, intent upon dragging Claire to her feet. But in the end being a man of strong appetites and less discernment than was wise the marquess accepted her gesture of gratitude in the spirit in which it had been offered. Out of greed, and out of desperation. Theirs had long been a symbiotic relationship.
When the spasms had ceased to wrack his body and given way to a mild, emotionless sort of enervation Mercer could not quite call it satisfaction he drew Claire gently to her feet, and began to restore his clothing to order.
"Do you remember, Claire, the night we met?" he asked, stabbing in his shirttails.
Claire had extracted a small mirror from her reticule and was leaning over the bedside lamp, studying her lips as if for damage. "Mais oui, at Lady Bleckton's winter masque." She paused to dab something red onto her lips with her pinkie. "How dashing you were, my lord, in your sweeping black cloak and that is all I can remember."
"Indeed? It was the night your husband left you."
Claire trilled with laughter. "Oui, but who has got the better of that bargain? He has his draughty old château, whilst I have his jewels. And you, mon chéri. I have you."
When he turned to merely stare at her, Claire snapped the mirror shut, and came tripping across the room, her face fixed in that sly, suggestive smile which no longer had the power to make his groin tighten and his stomach bottom out.
"You have the use of his jewels, my dear," he warned her. "They are not yours to wager."
Setting her small, white hands against his chest, she leaned into him, washing him in the familiar, almost sickening scent of lilies and anise. "A mere technicality, my lord," she murmured. "And do you not confess that le vicomte's loss has been your gain?"
He felt his mouth curve with a faint smile. "I never confess to anything, Claire. You know that."
Her pout returned. But this time, as he stared down his chest and watched her lips lips that mere moments ago had been slick and wet on his feverish body it was as if he watched from a great distance, through pane after pane of wavering glass which somehow distorted her beauty and made it hard to remember why he had once thought himself so taken with her.
A feeling of cold resolve flooded over him, and with it came something darker. Stronger. It was shame, he thought. Shame and the wish to flee this farce of his own making. How had he not seen it? Even his own mother, who never interfered in anyone's business, had warned him it would come to this.
Oh, he had kept women of skill and experience before, when it had been mutually beneficial to both parties. And God knew Claire was tempting, with her pale, ethereal beauty, and that eternal need to be rescued from something. A bullying husband. A broken fingernail. Debt. Any disaster, large or small, could engender tears which, on any other woman, would have reddened the nose and swollen the eyes, but on Claire merely clung to the tips of her impossibly long lashes and left her looking even more fragile and dewy-eyed than before.
Mercer stepped away, and finished hitching up his trouser buttons. Claire shot him a suspicious, assessing look, that plump bottom lip snared in her teeth now. He could almost hear the cogs and wheels inside her head spinning as she calculated. Suddenly she turned and, casting one last glance over her shoulder, swished her way toward the bed, and began to draw down the covers, smoothing the wrinkles from the sheets in long, inviting motions, knowing all the while that he watched her.
Mercer remained silent.
"You are displeased with me," she eventually said, feigning contrition. "I should not have intruded upon your privacy tonight. Come to bed, my lord, and I shall make it all worth your while, oui?"
But he went instead to the window and stared down into the late night traffic of St. James's, one hand at his waist, the other rubbing pensively at the back of his neck, where a dull ache was setting in. Carefully, and with a measure of reluctance, he chose his words.
"I am not going to bed with you again, Claire," he finally answered. "It is over. It has been over for some time. I think we both of us know that."
"Mercer?" Her voice was sharp, her silk skirts rustling as she hastened toward him. "Whatever do you mean?"
He lifted his gaze to the window, observing her approach in the watery reflection. "We are just using one another, Claire," he said quietly. "As I used you just now. As you used me tonight in the gaming room. This us it is over, my dear."
Her breath seized. "Mais non!" she whispered, setting a tremulous hand between his shoulder blades. "You You cannot mean this! Why, there is nothing for me but you. What will become of me? Where shall I go?"
"Oh, such drama, Claire." His voice was hollow. "You shall go home. To the house in Fitzrovia for now. But home to Auvergne to your husband would be even better."
"Non!" she cried, recoiling. "Chéraute, he...why, he hates me. And he is old. He smells of camphor and of onions and oh, how can you say such a vile thing to me in that cold, cold voice of yours?"
At that, Mercer turned abruptly, fixing her with his stare. It was not the first time he'd been accused of being cold. "Chéraute does not hate you, Claire," he replied. "Indeed, I begin to think he never did. He simply cannot afford you and neither can I."
"Oh! Do you think me such a fool as all that?" All pretense of seduction gone, Claire narrowed her eyes to glittering slits. "You are likely the richest man in all London. You could afford me ten times over."
He seized her firmly but gently by her upper arms. "I choose not to afford you," he corrected. "However much money I have, I can no longer afford this...this madness in my life. The not knowing where you will be from one night to the next, nor how much you will lose. Claire, you shed your notes of hand like my dogs shed hair, and I must follow you all over town, sweeping up the mess."
"Then you mean to leave me with nothing not even my pride?" Her visage darkened. "Your heart is like ice, mon chéri. Chéraute does not want me. You heard him say as much all those months ago."
Mercer gave her a gentle shake. "Make him want you, Claire," he answered. "That is what you are so very good at. Ply those 'special skills' upon your husband for a change."
He saw the hand rise to strike him, and did not wince from it. The backhanded blow caught him square across the cheekbone, her ruby ring stinging like a blade beneath his eye. When it was over, he still stood unflinching before her, almost savoring the pain. It was probably less than he deserved.
"Go back to France, my dear." He kept his voice steady. "You are a beautiful young woman. Go to Chéraute and mend your fences. Change your ways. We are both of us better than this."
But Claire was still trembling with indignation. "I will not be sent away like a child! I will not go to France. You will not avoid me like this."
"I am not trying to avoid you, Claire. I am telling you what is so. We are done."
A mélange of hatred and resignation sketched across her face. "Très bien, my lord," she retorted, drawing back one step. "But know this: I will not hide myself. I will not make this easy for you. Indeed, I have a card to Lady Kildermore's soiree in a week's time. Do you imagine I will not go?"
Mercer let go of her arms, and gave one last, bitter smile. "If my mother invited you, Claire, then by all means, go," he answered. "I do not think our grief is such that either of us is apt to burst into tears at the sight of the other, do you? Certainly mine is not."
It was not, apparently, a question Claire wished to ponder. "Espèce de salaud!" she hissed just before she tried to slap him again.
Copyright © 2009 by Susan Woodhouse
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Although affluent Zoe Armstrong knows objectively she will have to settle in marriage amidst the Ton probably for a rakish amoral fortune hunter, she detests the idea. She understands why being the illegitimate offspring of an aristocrat and his mistress even if her father raised her, but she does not have to like it. Worse she knows only the most desperate fortune hunter will pursue her. At a gala, Zoe breaks into tears as she realizes first hand what a pariah she is to most of the Ton. Her friend rakish Robert "Robin" Rowland tries to soothe her disappointment, but his caring is misconstrued by all in attendance. To save what was already a poor reputation due to her blood requires the pair marry although neither loves one another. Robert's prim and proper older brother the Marquess of Mercer takes both of them to his estate to buy time for gossip to vanish as a new scandal will arise. As Mercer struggles to hide his attraction to Zoe, she knows she loves the older brother who will never offer for her as she is tainted. This is a wonderful historical romance starring spirited Zoe who drives both brothers batty. Robin is unhappy with his choices while Zoe feels stunned ever since "the drastic and shocking events commenced" that dramatically changed their lives and that of a shocked Mercer. Fans will enjoy Liz Carlyle's amusing yet pathos laden tale "in which all is revealed". Harriet Klausner
This book was good. There's two books to this series and this is the first one. Try to read them in order. The characters of this book were a little full of themselves I thought and I just couldn't get to excited about this book. I thought the second book was a lot better. I gave this book 3 stars.
This book started out good but went downhill rather quickly. It was a lot of fluff and sick bed stuff that turns me off romance books. Not Liz's best efforts.
This was my first Liz Carlyle book to read. I loved the story and it had me crying several times throughout the book. Loved the self-torment of the Marquess and Zoe. If you like Mary Balogh's "A Gilded Web" then I think you will like this book.
I always buy books with Liz Carlyle's name on them because she has alwalys delivered interesting characters and wonderful plots until now. Sadly, I found this book to be boring. The heroine, although twenty-two years old was immature and selfish for three-fourths of the book. When she finally developed insight and discernment, I didn't care. There needed to be a plot of more concern than who she would marry in the end. Lots of important things were going on during this time in history. I would rather read more about the family of Jonet and her brother, the butler, as in other books. Ms. Carlyle's previous books were exciting and plot filled. I found this book disappointing. Still, I look forward to her next book. Everyone is entitled to one mistake.
Liz Carlyle has written some fine - dark and rich, original and intriguing - romances. "Wicked All Day" isn't one of them. And that's too bad, because if, like me, you've read her oeuvre, you were probably waiting for Zoë¿s story too.Poor Zoë deserved better. After all, as the illegitimate daughter of the infamous Rannoch, she lived a lonely life till his marriage to an unconventional artist and the introduction of her large and friendly family changed Zoë¿s life. But now poor Zoë is lonely again. Her `cousins¿ have moved on with their lives, but despite her fortune, Zoë¿s illegitimacy limits her marriage choices. So to prove that she doesn¿t give a flip, Zoë¿.ten to one you can finish this plot outline without me.Carlyle¿s novels are seldom plot driven, her characterization and originality are her strong points. But there¿s almost nothing here to work with. We know that Zoë¿s hastily acquired fiancée doesn¿t love her, and we know who does. We also know whom Zoë loves. And nothing much really stands in the way of their happiness.I¿m not saying this is a Bad Book. I¿m saying that reading Carlyle can sometimes be Godiva chocolate and this is closer to a Snickers bar. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. But it¿s not to die for.
I'm not a big fan of the plot devices used in the book. Zoe and her distant cousin Robin act foolishly and are engaged to each other within pages of the beginning of the book but neither one of them want to be engaged. Their close friendship disintegrates as both love other characters but won't do anything about it (until the last chapter). These two plus the hero acted childishly for much of the book and I wanted to tell them to grow up. There were a few attempts at character development but they were superficial at best. Not Liz Carlyle's best effort.
Once again Ms. Carlyle creates a cast of utterly believable characters.
We met Zoe in the Devil You Know a cousin to Freddie. So glad Liz Carlyle wrote her story and it was great.
Lovedthe characters, good read. Check out the others in the series. Not totally necessary but inteeresting.
I enjoyed it.
I'm becoming quite frustrated with the fact that even though we were told that these nook books would be half the price if not at least cheaper then the paper/hardcover editions, this is not the case. I've always loved barnes & noble, even eorked there for a few years but at this point I feel i've been lied to. I purchased this book a while ago in paperback and not only was it a dollar cheaper then the nook's price but I could use my B&N membership discount also and we can't even use our discount on here but yet your trying to lure people in to buy the nook with a discount on the membership price? Is it just me or have B&N resorted to tricks and lies to sell this product and I can't believe that the author would want their name attached to these kinds of actions, I suggest you go buy the paper back because if you dont care for it at least you can sell it to a used bookstore.
Mercer, Robin and Zoe were exquisite! Carrying the great charm that Julia Quinn's characters' have in "The Viscount who loved me."