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Barbara Metzger

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The Wicked Ways of a True Hero
BARBARA METZGER

 

Penguin Group USA

 

 

 

 

 

 

Table of Contents

 

Copyright Page

 

 

Dedication

 

 

Chapter One

 

 

Chapter Two

 

 

Chapter Three

 

 

Chapter Four

 

 

Chapter Five

 

 

Chapter Six

 

 

Chapter Seven

 

 

Chapter Eight

 

 

Chapter Nine

 

 

Chapter Ten

 

 

Chapter Eleven

 

 

Chapter Twelve

 

 

Chapter Thirteen

 

 

Chapter Fourteen

 

 

Chapter Fifteen

 

 

Chapter Sixteen

 

 

Chapter Seventeen

 

 

Chapter Eighteen

 

 

Chapter Nineteen

 

 

Chapter Twenty

 

 

Chapter Twenty-one

 

 

Chapter Twenty-two

 

 

Chapter Twenty-three

 

 

Chapter Twenty-four

 

 

Chapter Twenty-five

 

 

Chapter Twenty-six

 

 

Chapter Twenty-seven

 

 

Chapter Twenty-eight

 

 

Chapter Twenty-nine

 

 

Chapter Thirty

 

 

Chapter Thirty-one

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Praise for
The Scandalous Life of a True Lady

 

Another winner from an author who writes with a light touch and a kindly understanding of human nature. Barbara Metzger is a true artist with a palette of words.Romance Reviews Today

 

 

[Has] witty, spicy dialogue and intelligent characters.

 

 

Romantic Times

 

 

[Contains Barbara Metzgers] trademark situational comedy and witty repartee . . . fans of Ms. Metzger wont want to miss this story.Rakehell

 

 

Barbara Metzger creates a treasure with
The Scandalous Life of a True Lady
.Manic Readers

 

 

Metzgers cup of imagination seems to overflow. Stellar!Huntress Book Reviews

 

 

Raves for
Barbara Metzgers Other Romances

 

Funny and touchingwhat a joy!Edith Layton

 

 

Metzgers gift for re-creating the flavor and ambience of the period shines here, and the antics of her dirty-dish villains, near-villains, and starry-eyed lovers are certain to entertain.

 

 

Publishers Weekly
(starred review)

 

 

Metzger presents an extraordinary book that commands the readers attention and lingers in the mind long after the last page is turned.

 

 

Booklist
(starred review)

 

 

The complexities of both story and character contribute much to its richness. Like life, this book is much more exciting when the layers are peeled back and savored.
Affaire de Coeur

 

 

A true tour de force. . . . A very satisfying read.

 

 

The Best Reviews

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also by Barbara Metzger

 

The Scandalous Life of a True Lady
Truly Yours
The Hourglass
Queen of Diamonds
Jack of Clubs
Ace of Hearts
The Duel
A Perfect Gentleman
Wedded Bliss

 

 

 

 

 

 

SIGNET ECLIPSE
Published by New American Library, a division of
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street,
New York, New York 10014, USA
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto,
Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)
Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Penguin Ireland, 25 St. Stephens Green, Dublin 2,
Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.)
Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124,
Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.)
Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park,
New Delhi - 110 017, India
Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632,
New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.)
Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue,
Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa
Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices:
80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published by Signet Eclipse, an imprint of New American Library,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
First Printing, March 2009

 

Copyright © Barbara Metzger, 2009

 

All rights reserved
SIGNET ECLIPSE and logo are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

 

Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

 

PUBLISHERS NOTE

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the authors imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.

 

The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the authors rights is appreciated.

 

eISBN : 978-1-101-01817-0

 

http://us.penguingroup.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Chris,
because she loves books and dogs

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

T
he end was near, inevitable and inescapable. All men had to meet their fates. Like all men, Daniel Stamfield protested his imminent demise.

 

 

Great gods, Im not ready! he shouted, his fist raised to the heavens.

 

 

The gods, great or small, did not answer, but his companion cringed farther back on her side of the bed.

 

 

Daniel did not notice. He leaped from the bed, bare as the day he was born, and charged to the dressing table. He grabbed the bottle therebrandy or gin or spice-scented cologne; he didnt care which. He ignored the nearby glass just as he ignored Miss Whites mew of distress when he raised the bottle to his mouth and took a long swallow. Then another. The liquor could not change the outcome, nor delay it. Being dead drunk on judgment day wasnt such a wise act, either, he realized, which only reminded him.

 

 

Dead. Im a dead man. He went back to the bed, as if sinking into the downy mattress, pulling the covers over his head and Miss White closer to his cold body, could save him. Im too young to die. Not even thirty. I thought I had more time.

 

 

Dont all men think that?

 

 

The note was still on the bed, though, where hed tossed it after the manservant brought the damn thing. On a silver tray, no less. Daniel stared at it nowthe expensive stationery, the flowing script, his name on the front of the folded sheet, the familiar seal on the back. His blue-eyed glare couldnt make the missive disappear, this death warrant, this end of his carefree days, this letter from his mother.

 

 

Theyre in Town, he told Miss White, expecting me to play the beau for my sisters come-out. He looked longingly back at the bottle on the table, then at the window overlooking the alley, as if escape lay in that direction. There was no escape, Daniel knew, not anywhere in London. I wrote that Susanna was too young to make her curtsies at court. I said she and Mother should come to Town before next Christmas to shop, to take in the theater and visit the lending libraries. A few tea parties and morning calls to Mothers old friends, especially those with daughters Susannas age. Id take her to Astleys Amphitheatre to see the trick riding. Susanna would like that. I did at her age.

 

 

Daniel still enjoyed visits to the circus, but now he went more to admire the bareback riders in their tights and short spangled skirts. He groaned at the memory that would be just that, a fond, forlorn dream, now that his family was in Town. A short visit would have been finea chance for Susanna to see the metropolis and pick up a bit of Town bronze and perhaps make some new friends before facing the marriage mart next year. A week or two, thats what I told them. Did anyone listen to me, the head of the family? No, damn it. They are here now, here for the whole blasted spring Season. Weeks. Months. Maybe into summer. An eternity of balls and routs, masquerades and presentations and operas. Balls, he repeated, with a different meaning.

 

 

No more bachelor days, wagering and wenching and lying abed, when he found his way home at daybreak or later. No more race meets or prizefights or tavern brawls. No more comfortable clothes, either. He grimaced at the loose shirt he pulled over his head, the baggy Cossack trousers he dragged on. Theyd soon be gone, along with the opera dancers and actresses and serving girls.

 

 

The spotted kerchief he knotted at his throat felt like a noose. Gads, theyll expect me to wear satin knee breeches and starched neckcloths. He could feel the rash already. And that was the least of his itches.

 

 

Some men came home from war with wounds or scars or medals. Daniel Stamfield had come home with a rash. Like all the men of his family, Daniel had a giftor curse, depending on how one felt. Somehow they could all tell truth from lies. His uncle the Earl of Royce heard discordant notes. His cousin Rex, the Royce heir, saw scarlet. Harry, his other cousin, from the wrong side of the blanket, tasted bitter lies on his tongue. Daniel? His curse wasnt subtle or private. That would have been too easy, too comfortable for a man who already stuck out like a sore thumb because of his overlarge, ungainly size. A sore thumb? Hed be happy with that. Instead he got itchy toes, itchy ears, bright red splotches on his neck, his face, his hands. Worst of all, a lot of lies, continuous lies, blatant lies, gave him a rash on his private parts. That was how hed been thrown out of Almacks his first time at the hallowed hall of propriety. Hed scratched his arse. What if Susanna was denied vouchers for that sacred altar to the matchmaking deities because of him?

 

 

Hell, he would die at the first Venetian breakfast from all the polite mistruths and insincere flatteries the beau monde mouthed. His mother and sister would die, too, of embarrassment. Susannas Season would be ruined, a debacle, a disgrace. No gentleman would marry her. Sweet little Sukeyd be an old maid at seventeen, all because of him and his sensitive skin. He should have stayed in the army, no matter the cost. Perhaps he had time to reenlist. So what if the war with France was over and that madman Napoleon was finally defeated? There was bound to be a battle somewhere, some way he could prove useful. More useful than hed be to poor Susanna.

 

 

All the Royce descendants were invaluable to the government, in necessarily secret service to their country. Theyd be burned as witches or warlocks if anyone suspected their hidden talent, or ostracized as charlatans. Mind readers? The devil! Truth knowers? Bosh. So they worked behind the scenes, disguising their gift as wisdom, wit, and uncanny luck.

 

 

Uncle Royce advised the courts. Harry used to run a spy network. Rex worked with Bow Street after he was wounded in the Peninsular War, after Daniel left the army. Together Rex and Daniel had been the dreaded Inquisitors, the intelligence officers in charge of gathering information from captured enemy officers. Daniels size alone intimidated their prisoners. Their unfailing results terrified everyone else, even their superiors. Since only a select few could know of the family trait, the War Office let stand the rumors that the Inquisitors were torturers, immoral brutes. They were despised by friend and foe alike, despite the countless English lives they saved. Daniel had constant rashes.

 

 

He came home when his father died, relieved to have an excuse to leave the army and his ugly but important employment. The life of a country squire, or a town buck, was just as filled with falsehoods, though, and boredom to boot. Then came the guilt over leaving Rex to serve the country by himself, until the fool got shot.

 

 

Daniel had sworn to look after his cousin and best friend. Hed failed. Hed lied, which was the worst thing a Royce relative could do. When Rex turned into a morose, hermitlike cripple, Daniel turned into a libertine, a wastrel, a gambler, a drunk. He threw himself into whatever debauchery London offered, along with its other dregs and demimondaines. So what if his new companions lied and cheated? Their haunts were usually too dark for anyone to notice Daniels spots, and half his neighbors itched just as badly, from lice or fleas or bedbugs. Women were paid to please, and Daniel paid them more not to pretend any tender feelings or passion. His size and reputation protected him from the dangers of the night, and his mighty fists protected him from anyone stupid enough to try in the shadows.
BOOK: Barbara Metzger
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