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Alyssa Everett

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A Tryst with Trouble
By Alyssa Everett

London
,
1820

Lady Barbara Jeffords is certain her little sister didn’t murder the footman, no matter how it looks...and no matter what the Marquess of Beningbrough—Ben—might say. She can scarcely help it if his cousin is the only other suspect. In fact, she wants nothing to do with ruggedly handsome Ben; he reminds her of all the insensitive clods who passed her over.

For years Ben has been dogged by painful gossip about his father’s rumored homosexuality. His gruff shell hides a passionate nature, and he’s also fiercely loyal—which is why he’ll never let the clever and beguiling Lady Barbara pin a murder on his cousin.

Sparks fly as the two compete to defend their loved ones. But as strange new clues emerge that neither can decipher alone, they have no choice but to compare notes and sleuth in tandem. A tenuous bond develops that soon faces its toughest challenge when Ben himself becomes a suspect...

90,000 words

Dear Reader,

Usually I begin these letters with some chatty information, but I’m departing from my norm this time to give you the opportunity to talk to me. At Carina, we’re always discussing our books and making sure we’re meeting your needs—not just with story and content, but also in the way they’re put together. This month, I’d like to reach out to you and ask your opinion on how the Carina Press books utilize the front and back matter. Do you like having the dear reader letter in the front? Would you prefer if it were in the back? Is there something more—excerpts, book lists or other information—we could be providing after the books? We welcome your comments and hope you will reach out to us with your thoughts at
[email protected]
.

In the meantime, it’s business as usual here at Carina Press headquarters, and that means a lineup of excellent books (no bias here!) for the month of September. We welcome author Jael Wye to Carina Press with her science-fiction fairy-tale retelling,
Ice Red
, in which the tale of Snow White plays out on the deadly and beautiful planet Mars 300 years in the future. Joining her in launching a new series is return author Nico Rosso, who grabbed my attention the first time he pitched this series to me as “demon rock stars.” Misty is thrown into rock star and immortal demon Trevor Sand’s supernatural world of music, monsters and passion in
Heavy Metal Heart.

More unique voices this month include urban fantasy author R.L. Naquin’s newest Monster Haven novel,
Fairies in My Fireplace
, as well as
Agamemnon Frost and the Hollow Ships
, book two of Kim Knox’s male/male science-fiction trilogy.

Sandy James wraps up her Alliance of the Amazons series with
The Volatile Amazon.
The Water Amazon leads the Alliance as they face their archenemy in their last and greatest fight. Veronica Scott joins Sandy in the paranormal category with Egypt-set
Warrior of the Nile.

We have multiple releases in the erotic romance genre this month, including
Love Letters Volume 5:
Exposed
, in which the Love Letters ladies strip away everything but the hot truth, and four couples see each other in a tantalizingly revealing new light.
Forbidden Obsessions
by Jodie Griffin features Bondage & Breakfast owner Gabe McConnell, who finally gets his chance at love when he meets a novice submissive who touches a part of his dominant heart no one else ever has. In Lynda Aicher’s
Bonds of Hope
, former America’s sweetheart Quinn Andrews has an opportunity to revive her career by playing a sexual submissive in a highly anticipated new TV series. Quinn is ready to throw herself into the role, and sex club The Den is the ideal place for a crash course.

Also in the erotic romance genre, we’re pleased to welcome author Lise Horton to Carina Press with
Words of Lust.
A career spent teaching erotic literature does not prepare brainy Professor Serafina Luca for NYC construction foreman Nick Stellato, but his lessons in lust promise to fulfill her wickedest desires, and his promise of love, her wildest dreams.

For historical romance fans, Alyssa Everett offers up
A
Tryst with Trouble.
The arrogant heir to a dukedom and a blunt-spoken spinster take an instant dislike to each other, but must join forces to solve a murder mystery in this clever regency romp.

Kaylea Cross returns with another edge-of-your-seat romantic suspense novel,
Lethal Pursuit.
An air force pararescue jumper and a female security forces officer are locked in an intense battle of wills, but when they’re captured by an enemy warlord, it takes everything they have to survive and fight their way back to friendly lines together. Check out the other books in this series,
Deadly Descent
and
Tactical Strike.

We’re excited to present
Corroded
, the next book in Karina Cooper’s St. Croix Chronicles. Now fixated on revenge, bounty hunter Cherry St. Croix must bend all her intellect on catching a murderer—no matter whose help she must ask, and to whose demand she must submit.

Last, I’m thrilled to announce the release of three debut authors this month. Rebecca Crowley’s contemporary sports romance,
The Striker’s Chance
, gives us passion on and off the pitch when ambitious PR manager Holly Taylor has to revamp the playboy image of sexy, stubborn professional soccer player Kepler de Klerk. Michelle Witvliet breaks onto the romantic suspense scene with
Breaking Protocol.
She can’t let go of a tragic past; he faces an uncertain future; so they live in the moment and discover all they really need is each other. And in our new adult lineup, debut author Melissa Guinn offers a new adult romance novel about first love, second chances and learning to let go in
Headfirst Falling.

I hope you enjoy this month’s releases as much as we have, and find them satisfying, remarkable and memorable!

We love to hear from readers, and you can email us your thoughts, comments and questions to
[email protected]
. You can also interact with Carina Press staff and authors on our blog, Twitter stream and Facebook fan page.

Happy reading!

~Angela James
Executive Editor, Carina Press

www.carinapress.com
www.twitter.com/carinapress
www.facebook.com/carinapress

Dedication

For Margaret, my beloved and much-missed paternal grandmother, who raised overprotection to an art form.

Acknowledgments

I wish to thank my critique partners, Karen Dobbins, Susanna Fraser, Vonnie Hughes and Rose Lerner, and my editor, Deb Nemeth, for their unflagging support and advice. The inspiration for this story came from
Much Ado About Nothing
, so I also owe a thank-you to Shakespeare. And, last but not least, a tip of the do-rag to Rod, Rowan, Roxana and Roarke for making my life so happy. Love you five-ever.

Chapter One

Ben

London, April 1820

“What is
he
doing here?” Lady Leonard eyed me as if I were a dead mouse the cat had deposited on her settee. If there was anyone less welcome in a drawing room than a prospective son-in-law breaking off an engagement, it was the prospective son-in-law’s uninvited and entirely superfluous cousin.

Teddy fidgeted. “Lord Beningbrough is here to lend me moral support,” he said, not only making himself sound as if he were still in leading strings but making me look like a gudgeon with no life of my own.

I rather resented the latter point, as I was the only one in this affair who’d shown any sense at all. Hadn’t I told Teddy he was making a mistake, asking the Leonard chit to marry him? Why shackle yourself to some feather-brained girl, I’d advised him, when you have years before you need to worry about setting up your nursery and she’ll probably play you false anyway? Marriage was one of those unpleasant duties best put off until the last possible moment.

But of course Teddy refused to listen. He was too amiable and trusting by half. Most of my mother’s family were like that, if you came right down to it. They had regrettably dreamy, unrealistic notions about life. In Teddy’s case it hadn’t taken long for my warning to prove true.

He looked earnestly to Lord and Lady Leonard. “I don’t want to hurt Helen. I
do
love her. But I depend on my father for my allowance, and he’d never accept our marriage if she’s...she’s...”

“She could be carrying some other man’s child,” I furnished, since I saw no point in mincing words. “You can hardly expect my cousin to marry your daughter if it means forgetting what’s due his position. Cliburne here will be the Earl of Daventry someday. It would be a grievous injustice to his family if the title and fortune were to end up in the hands of some nobody’s by-blow.”

Lord Leonard made a choking sound, and his wife gasped.

Teddy shifted in his chair. “I say, Ben, you needn’t put it quite that bald—”

I gave him a quelling look. Really, I didn’t know why I let myself be dragged into these personal messes. I’d never asked for anyone’s help in my life, yet I was always the first fellow others came to when they found themselves in a fix. It was one of life’s little jokes, the way Fate punished a man for keeping his wits about him. But I was three years older than Teddy and had a good deal more experience of the world, so when he asked for my support, how could I turn him down? If you couldn’t count on family, you couldn’t count on anyone.

Lord Leonard’s face had gone an alarming shade of scarlet. “What I don’t understand, Cliburne, is what gives you the audacity to imply my little Helen is anything less than pure.”

Teddy flushed. “Believe me, it’s not an accusation I make lightly. When I first heard she’d been seen with another man, I wanted nothing more than to dismiss it as spiteful gossip.”

Lord Leonard’s face turned an even deeper red, if there was any shade redder than scarlet. Cinnabar, perhaps? Vermilion? “Who is this other man, and who told you she’d been seen with him?”

Teddy looked down. “I’m not at liberty to say.”

“It was your neighbor’s footman, and Cliburne here heard the news from his own brother,” I answered. “He may be too diplomatic to say so, but I’m not.”

“Indeed, Lord Beningbrough,” Lady Leonard said faintly. “I doubt anyone has ever accused you of being too diplomatic.”

Lord Leonard fixed his outraged glare on Teddy. “What does my daughter say to these accusations? Surely she must have told you it’s a disgusting slander.”

“I haven’t spoken to Helen about it.” Teddy jiggled his walking stick between his knees. “I believe that kind of interview would be too painful for her.”

I nodded my approval, though of course the girl was going to be pretty roundly pained when she found out Teddy had given her the heave-ho. But what did she expect? If she insisted on carrying on with the next-door neighbor’s footman, she ought to have more sense than to do it behind the Minerva Press shelves at Hookham’s lending library. Even the most brazen ladybird I’d ever tumbled had known how to be discreet.

With a grunt of indignation, Lord Leonard got up and stalked to the bellpull to ring for a servant. A very junior-looking footman answered his summons, the young man’s pasty face making it abundantly clear why Teddy’s intended had looked to the neighbors’ household for her lover. “Fetch Lady Helen,” Lord Leonard told him.

“And bring her sister too,” Lady Leonard added. At her husband’s sharp glance, she said, “If the cat should get Helen’s tongue, at least we can trust Barbara to tell us what’s what.”

The four of us sat in strained silence for the space of several minutes, waiting for the girls to arrive, while I did my best to look politely disgusted by the whole business. It wasn’t a difficult expression to manage, really, for if there was anything in existence more disgusting than Lady Leonard’s taste in furnishings, I had no wish to see it. Crocodile-footed stools warred with Moorish fainting couches, and such an abundance of puce upholstery filled the room that it put one in mind of a slaughterhouse. Not only that, but the rug clashed.

The door opened, and Teddy and I rose. In tripped the source of all Teddy’s troubles, an angelic blonde who looked as if butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. She was followed by her sister, and, all right, I grant you the second girl was striking.
Most
striking. She had Titian hair, skin as white and smooth as mother’s milk, and the sort of lush curves that would have guaranteed even the most wall-eyed courtesan a comfortable retirement. My blood warmed just looking at her. Heaven only knew why Teddy had opted for the younger sister. It was like choosing orgeat when one could have brandy.

“Come in and sit down, girls,” Lord Leonard said. “You know Lord Cliburne, of course, and this gentleman is his cousin, Lord Beningbrough. Lord Beningbrough, these are my daughters—Lady Barbara Jeffords, Lady Helen Jeffords.”

“It’s a great pleasure to make your acquaintance, ladies,” I said, my eyes still on the redhead.

The sisters bobbed curtsies—in the older girl’s case, it was really more of a regal nod—then settled themselves in the ugly high-backed chairs that flanked the fire. As Teddy and I resumed our seats, his intended gave him a beatific smile. Unfortunately, Teddy didn’t have the good sense to look away, but gazed back at the girl with the eyes of a wounded calf.

The redhead, Lady Barbara, had been studying me with a puzzled frown, but all at once her brow cleared. “Why, now I know why you look so familiar,” she exclaimed in a surprisingly husky voice. “You’re the very image of the Duke of Ormesby.”

I stiffened, thinking perhaps Teddy had been right after all to prefer the younger sister. “I hardly think the likeness is that marked, but His Grace of Ormesby is my father, if that’s what you’re getting at.”

“Oh, don’t be offended, Lord Beningbrough,” the girl replied. “When I said you were like him, I only meant there’s a physical resemblance. I never thought—”

Her mother cut her off. “That’s enough, Barbara.”

If I’d still cherished any hope the Leonards were not acquainted with my father’s shameful reputation, it died a quick and ignominious death.

Barbara

I knew it had to be bad news when Helen and I were summoned to the drawing room. Papa never demanded my attendance because I’d done something
right.

“Are we in much trouble, Frye?” I asked the footman sent to fetch us.

“I couldn’t say, my lady, but I think you’re only wanted because Lord Cliburne has come to call.”

“Teddy’s here?” Helen said, her face brightening into that breathtakingly lovely look that always made me want to snatch up a pillow and beat her vigorously about the head with it. Cliburne would probably stay for dinner, too, which would mean another long evening of watching them make eyes at each other. Not that I cared, of course, for it wasn’t as if I’d chased after him myself, whatever that vicious caricature in the
Times
might have implied. All those old biddies who cast me pitying glances because my younger sister had nabbed him instead could save their sympathy for someone who really needed it.

As Helen skipped toward the drawing room ahead of me, I glanced down at my gown with a sense of resignation. Helen looked as if she’d just stepped out of a fashion plate, her sprigged muslin a vision of springtime, her golden curls bouncing. I, on the other hand, had received my parents’ summons in the middle of retrieving a pencil from under my bed, leaving my gown dusty and my hair disarranged. Somehow I always managed to look my worst when one of Helen’s suitors came to call. I wished she would just hurry up and marry Cliburne and put me out of my misery.

The two of us entered the drawing room to discover Mama wearing an anxious expression, and Papa even more red-faced than usual. I glanced to where Cliburne stood waiting for Helen—

—and nearly tripped on Mama’s
terre d’Egypte
rug. I’d thought Cliburne was good-looking, but there beside him stood the most sinfully handsome young man I’d ever seen. He was tall and broad-shouldered, with clear gray eyes in a chiseled face, and his dark hair had been cropped into a Brutus cut that somehow managed to look both short and tousled at the same time. There was something vaguely familiar about his looks—the clean jaw, the high cheekbones, the straight nose, the sensuous mouth. The flawlessness of his features stood in stark contrast, however, to his style of dress, for he was so ruggedly and plainly attired that he might have been about to go shooting in the muddy countryside rather than paying an afternoon call at a fashionable London address.

Then Papa introduced the Adonis, and I realized why his face rang a bell. “Now I know why you look so familiar. You’re the very image of the Duke of Ormesby.”

Everyone knew who the Duke of Ormesby was...and
what
he was. Of course, it had never been proven, and it wasn’t the kind of scandal one spoke of openly, but the rumors were nevertheless whispered everywhere. I’d met the duke once myself, at a rout given by my late grandmama, and to be honest he hadn’t seemed so very monstrous to me. In fact, he’d impressed me as dryly observant and remarkably handsome. Just the same, talking to him had made me nervous. I knew next to nothing about sodomites, but my brother Will had solemnly assured me they indulged in the most wicked and unnatural vice, and if convicted of it, they could be hanged.

Now here was the duke’s only son and heir, the Marquess of Beningbrough, sitting across from me in my family’s drawing room, and it appeared I’d offended him, for he went rigid as a poker. Oddly enough his reaction made me warm to him a little, for I could sympathize. I wouldn’t want anyone comparing me to my father, either, and
my
papa wasn’t given to criminal perversions. No, he was usually content just to bully everyone—except for Helen, of course. Papa thought Helen could do no wrong.

Beside me, Helen crinkled her forehead adorably, apparently in response to Cliburne’s unaccustomed silence. “Is something wrong, Teddy?”

He colored. “Well, it’s...it’s not easy to talk about.” He fiddled a little with his walking stick, then turned to his cousin in mute appeal.

“Lord Cliburne,” Beningbrough said, stepping into the breach, “wishes to withdraw his offer of marriage.”

Helen gasped.

I gasped too. This couldn’t be happening. Nothing ever went wrong in Helen’s perfect life.

Papa hastened to mend matters. “Naturally this is all just a misunderstanding, but I’ve called you girls here to get to the bottom of it.”

“Withdraw your offer?” Helen repeated in a whisper, gazing at Cliburne. Tears sprang to her eyes and spilled piteously over her cheeks. “But why, Teddy? What did I do?”

There was a long silence, one which Lord Beningbrough looked as if he would have liked to fill. Instead he stared pointedly at his cousin.

“It’s...well...” Cliburne literally squirmed in his seat. “I hate to bring it up, but...dash it, Helen, do you know the Woodfords’ second footman?”

Helen had been dabbing at her eyes in a creditable imitation of a weeping angel, but at this she looked up with an arrested expression. “The Woodfords’ footman?”

Cliburne stared down at his boots and said in a heartsick croak, “I’ve been told you were seen in a clinch with the fellow.”

Poor Cliburne. I was torn between wanting to take his hand and say
There
,
there
, and the urge to jump up and crow exultantly,
This would never have happened if you’d picked me!

“Well, Helen?” Papa prodded. “What do you have to say to Lord Cliburne’s accusations? Go ahead, tell him you don’t even know the Woodfords’ footman.”

Cliburne nodded. “Yes, if you’ll only explain, I’m perfectly willing to believe this is all a mistake. Nothing would make me happier than to—”

Lord Beningbrough cut him off with a withering stare. If looking down one’s nose at others qualified one for the rank, Beningbrough was going to make a first-rate duke one day.

For a fleeting moment Helen looked oddly guilty, but she recovered quickly. Clutching her hands to her heart, she gazed with soulful disappointment at Cliburne. “Don’t you trust me, Teddy? Surely you don’t think Sam and I—”

Papa straightened. “Sam? Is that the name of the Woodfords’ footman? Just how do you know the rogue, Helen?”

If Helen sensed she’d stumbled, she gave no sign. Her hands still clasped together prayerfully, she turned her blue eyes heavenward. “I’ve sworn a solemn vow not to speak of it.”


What?
” Papa thundered.

Mama and I flinched. To be honest, I was more startled than frightened. I was used to Papa browbeating us, but never in front of guests. Lord Beningbrough even half rose from his seat as if he meant to lodge a protest.

Before he could object, however, Mama turned to me and asked, “What do you know about this, Barbara?”

I held up my hands in disavowal, as Lord Beningbrough sank slowly back down. “Absolutely nothing, Mama. Helen never tells me anything.”

Mama frowned and turned back to Helen. “Then you must give up this naughty silence at once, Helen.”

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