Authors: Margo Maguire
This book is dedicated to my very good friend,
Ellen Reid Monkman, with my prediction that
2010 will be a great year!
Anguish, dark and intense, ripped through Thomas Thorne when heâ¦
Two days after the incident in Hanover Square, Thomas readâ¦
Maggie saw one of her stepbrother's footmen standing at theâ¦
Thomas made the circuit of the ballroom with Nathaniel onâ¦
If Maggie had been able to sleep that night, sheâ¦
Tom was counting on Shefford arriving soon, so he'd hadâ¦
“Forty thousand pounds!” Maggie hissed after they'd climbed into Shefford'sâ¦
Maggie avoided Victoria's questioning eyes. How could she explain theâ¦
“Take me away from here, please,” Maggie said, her voiceâ¦
Tom returned to Delamere House before dawn, aware that heâ¦
Tom had been loath to leave Maggie and the children,â¦
Tom was glad to see that his champion horse wasâ¦
“You haven't been able to sit still all week,” Victoriaâ¦
Supper was served in a small dining chamber, not farâ¦
Maggie felt wildly powerful. For the first time in herâ¦
When Maggie received a summons to her mother's house, sheâ¦
Maggie had an abysmal day. The children were out withâ¦
Maggie could not spend another moment sitting blindly in Thomas'sâ¦
He turned her slightly and lifted her hand to his mouth. It was a gentle kiss, nothing at all like the kisses he wanted to share with her. Now.
Her lips parted in surprise, and her eyes grew large. He could not help but notice the pulse thrumming at the side of her neck, and sensed that she would not refuse further intimacies.
The need to taste her, to feel her enticing, feminine body pressed against his was nearly overwhelming. He drew her away from the gallery, searching for a private niche or an alcove where he could show her how much he wanted her. He pushed through a closed door and found a staircase in a deserted back hall. Slipping into a small nook behind the stairs, he pulled her inside and took her into his arms.
“I've wanted to touch you from the moment I saw you.”
London. Late March, 1817
nguish, dark and intense, ripped through Thomas Thorne when he gazed at number nineteen Hanover Square, the location of his ignominious downfall. By now, he should be over the incident that had occurred there more than seventeen years before. But his hatred for his accusers still burned, still sizzled like a flaming torch, deep in his gut.
Murder would be a far simpler solution than the revenge he'd planned at great length all these years. And though it would serve his purpose, murder would be far too easy. It offered nowhere near the satisfaction he sought.
He remembered Marquess Shefford's sumptuous mansion as though he'd only arrived there that morning as a lad of sixteen. He'd accompanied his father from Suffolk to London with the six Thoroughbreds the marquess had purchased on a trip to Newmarket, and somehow it had all gone wrong from there.
While Thomas had helped to prepare the horses to be shown, someone had put several valuables from the house into his pack. It could only have been Shefford's wicked bull of a son, Leighton Ingleby, and the boy's milksop friend, Julian Danvers, for they were the two who had accused him and held up his pack with the silver bowls inside for all to see.
The house had not changed in the least. As Tom stood gazing at the site, he could almost hear the wheels of the carriages and the clop of horses' hooves on the street as they'd passed in front of number nineteen that day, and even the melodic calls of the street hawkers nearby.
But then the scars on his back began to itch painfully, and his wrists and ankles throbbed as he remembered the weight and shame of his shackles.
Tom inhaled deeply from his cheroot and looked around. It was dusk, and all was quiet now. The air was chilly, but he barely felt it, for his desire for revenge burned in his belly and warmed him far better than any coal fire could do. He did not know what he could possibly have done to offend the marquess's son and his friend, Danvers. But they had surely known what the consequences of their conspiracy would be. Tom would have been hanged or transported.
There were days Thomas wished he had hanged.
He reminded himself that everything was different now. It was a long time since Judge Maynwaring had sentenced him to be transported
to a violent and filthy penal colony with its sadistic commandant, Major Foveaux. It was past time for his lying accusers, his indifferent judge, and all of their families to suffer as Tom and his family had done. He might not be able to send them to Norfolk Island, one of the hellish colonies where Tom had spent the seven horrifying years of his sentence, but Tom now had the means to make their lives a misery. He would make Leighton and Julian's families pay for his lost years in the penal colony, as well as his subsequent years of hardship and degradation after he'd received his ticket-of-leave.
They deserved no less than what he had planned.
Tom's men had orders to be exceedingly circumspect as they investigated Ingleby and Maynwaring, and the Danvers family, for he did not want to alert any of them to his presence or his plans. He wanted them to be absolutely vulnerable, to be taken entirely by surprise, just as he had been all those years ago.
Tom and his men had also taken on false, foreign-sounding surnames in order to carry out their deception, and they'd come up with a plausible explanation for why their English was better than it should be. Tom had no reason to think anyone would be suspicious of their story. Not when he possessed more wealth than a dozen kings.
He walked across the square and turned to look once again at the imposing edifice of Shefford House before returning to his hotel. He would feel
no satisfaction, no contentment, until they were all destroyed as he had been. Until they suffered as his family had suffered.
Tom did not know if his parents and sister still lived, or where they might be. His father, a prominent Suffolk horse breeder, had been devastated by Tom's arrest. He had pleaded with the judge for lenience, to no avail. Maynwaring would not give Tom's father the time of day.
Some of George Thorne's letters had reached Tom aboard the prison hulk, but after his transportation to the South Seas, the letters stopped. Tom hated to think why his father might have stopped writing.
The burning hole of loneliness that had hurt more viciously than any of Tom's beatings returned full force. During the first few weeks of his incarceration, he'd missed his parents and sister to the point of despair. It had become a dull ache in the following months, and dwindled to nearly nothing as he'd fought to survive. But he felt it again, now that he was back. Seventeen years fell away, and he was the raw youth who'd been desperate for his father's solid presence and the comfort of his mother's touch.
A small boy suddenly burst from the front door of a nearby house, and rushed into the street. He was well dressed, but disheveled as a boy at play might be. As he ran full bore toward the center of the square, a fashionable barouche barreled into the street, moving much too fast. In an instant, Tom realized that the barouche was not going to
be able to stop in time. The horses were going to trample the child.
Tossing his cheroot to the ground, Tom dashed toward the boy and grabbed him, gathered him in his arms, then threw them both out of the way just as the barouche sped past them and came to a halt some yards away. Thomas rolled to the ground, protecting the child as best he could, barely aware of the shouts and cries all around him.
He hardly dared open his eyes, afraid he might be missing a vital part, or that the boy had been hurt. Yet when he felt a hand on his arm and smelled the soft, feminine scent of roses, he cracked one eye open.
“Zachary!” cried the woman who dropped to her knees beside him. Her cheeks were flushed with color, her dove gray eyes bright with terror.
Her unabashed maternal concern touched a chord deep within him. She was entirely fresh, with no artifice about her, just an open horror at what might have happened to her child.
Her face was a perfect oval, with full, sweet lips and a deep dimple creasing each cheek. Her nose was unremarkable but for the pale freckles that skittered across it. A lock of wavy, dark brown hair had escaped the knot at her nape, but most enticing of all was her half-unbuttoned bodice. Her rush from the house must have interrupted her dressing. Or undressing. For the curve of her full, soft breast pushed against the gap in her bodice, and her apprehension for her son outweighed any semblance of upper-crust arrogance.
Thomas swallowed hard and sat up with the child in his arms. It had been many long years since he'd felt the punch of arousal so quickly, so completely. And it was absolutely unwelcome now. He had to remind himself that it was this spoiled aristocracy that destroyed his life as though it meant nothing.
“Are you all right, sir?” Her question contradicted what he knew of west end residents. She took the child from Tom's arms, then returned her hand to his forearm, even as she admonished the boy. “Oh, Zachary!”
Thomas extricated himself from her grasp and stood, shocked by the force of lust he felt from their slight contact. “Quite all right, madam.”
He tamped it down and attempted to be furious with the boy for putting them both in danger. Yet the child's puzzled expression tugged at something inside Tom. An appreciation of innocence he'd thought long-buried.
“Maggie! Come away from there!” came a carping female voice from the direction of the boy's house. “You look like aâ¦”
The young motherâMaggieâignored the older woman, keeping her eyes on him as he gave her the regal nod he'd practiced so assiduously. He had to take his leave as quickly as possible. He could not afford another minute with this pretty lady, with her pulse thrumming wildly in her smooth throat, and each breath coming fast in the wake of her distress.
She was far too tempting. Her emotional intensity and state of dishevelment made his body yearn for impossible things.
The boy's nanny arrived, a plump matron in a gray gown and white apron. “I'll take him, my lady,” she said, hardly able to contain her horror at what might have happened.
“No need, Nurse Hawkins. I have him now,” said Maggie, never breaking her gaze with him. Her voice broke, but she did not weep. The woman might have backbone, but Thomas felt an overwhelming urge to draw her into his arms and hold her close. Provide comfort.
Perhaps he was more shaken than he thought.
“Please, do come to the house andâ¦andâ¦allow someone to see to your clothes.”
“No harm was done,” Thomas replied as several more people from the house started across the street toward them. “A quick brushing will suffice.”
As she held her son close, a crease of consternation appeared between her softly arched brows, and when she bit her lip, he noticed a thin sliver of a scar that underscored it. The flaw only added to her appeal.
“Are you certain, sir?” she asked quietly. “I would be entirely remiss if Iâ”
“It was nothing, madam. All is well,” he said, as the older woman with the harsh voice crossed the street along with the rest of them. Here was the well dressed, the privileged elite, all talking at once.
The distraction of their voices was exactly what he needed to remind him why he was here. “If you'll excuse me, I'll bid you good night.”
Maggie Danvers was trembling so hard she thought her bones might break. Her precious son had nearly met his death out in the street, and there'd been nothing she could do to stop it, not with her lame leg and the slowness it caused. She thanked God for the presence and quick thinking of the tall stranger who'd saved him.
“Who was that fellow in the street?” asked her mother, the dowager Marchioness of Shefford. “I didn't recognize him.” Beatrice had hardly changed at all in the two years since Maggie had seen her last.
A few silvery threads had twined themselves through her mother's bright red hair, and Maggie noticed several delicate crinkles about her eyes. Her waist was slightly thicker than Maggie remembered, but Beatrice had been a beauty in her time, and her features had not changed much with age. Maggie looked around the room where her three older sisters had gathered, and saw that they still favored their mother, while Maggie did not. She never had, much to Beatrice's consternation.
Her sisters were much older than she, belonging to some sisterly club to which Maggie was not invited. They'd had their assemblies and parties, their beautiful gowns and handsome suitors, while Maggie had stayed home with her nanny.
“I've never seen him before,” said Charlotte, the eldest. Her red-gold hair was elegantly coiffed with pearl combs that matched the pearls at her neck. She was even more beautiful than their mother had
been at forty, with two equally lovely daughters who would come out together this year.
“He's not a resident of the square, is he?” their mother remarked.
Lord Horton, Stella's husband, folded
open to display a picture on the second page. “Look here. The man himself.”
Maggie's stepbrother, Leighton Ingleby, Lord Shefford, took the paper, and as Horton passed it to him, Maggie could see that the drawing was a perfect likeness of the man who'd saved Zachary.
“Prince Thomas Johan of Sabedoria
,” Shefford read aloud, his words clipped, as usual. He hadn't bothered to rush out to the square with the others, so he'd missed Zachary's brush with disaster. Horton took it upon himself to explain what had happened.
Shefford stroked his thick mustache. “What is Sabedoria? Some French district? Never heard of it.”
“Nor has anyone in the foreign office,” Lord Horton said.
“It's a country. Apparently,” said Lord Crusley, Elizabeth's husband.
“They're all atwitter over the flaxen cloth these foreigners brought from their country,” Crusley added.
“Flaxen cloth?” Beatrice murmured, obviously puzzled.
Crusley turned to face Lady Shefford. “It's used by the navy to make sails.”
But Beatrice was glaring at Maggie. “A
, Margaret!” she scolded. “And there you were, half-undressed, with your hair a mess and yourâ”
“I was hardly undressed, Mother,” Maggie retorted. She'd been in London only one day, and her mother was already interfering, managing, criticizing. Judging. Beatrice was one of the primary reasons Maggie had kept to herself at Blackmore Manor after Julian's death. She and the rest of the family always got along much better when they were in different counties, unlike Beatrice and her other daughters. The four of them all fit so very well together, while Maggie was different. Not only in looks, for she'd had the misfortune of taking after their father. But Maggie had committed the unforgivable.
Her actions had caused their esteemed cousin, the Marquess of Chatterton, to hang himself.
Maggie hugged her son closer, so grateful to the man who'd saved him from certain death. Both her children were precious to her, and she vowed never to treat either of them the way Beatrice behaved toward her. Maggie would protect her children, no matter how horrible the circumstances.
“Zachary,” she said firmly, “you must promise never to run out of the house that way again!”
“The boy needs discipline, Margaret,” said Beatrice, her scolding opening the flood gates of sisterly opinions and declarations. Her sisters and their husbands each seemed to have something to say about Zachary and his unruly behavior,
and they did not fail to leave out his little sister, whom they had decided was unreasonably bashful. Maggie could understand Lily's shyness around her opinionated aunts. She didn't blame her daughter at all for preferring the nursery in the attic.
Shefford was the only one who had little to say. He was not much taller than Maggie, but he was built like a bull, thick and strong. His hair was a sandy brown color, and he wore a thick mustache that was somewhat darker than the hair on his pate. The expression in his wily, dark brown eyes always seemed to be evaluating, or scheming over some new plot. Such looks never failed to make Maggie uncomfortable, especially now, as he eyed the newspaper drawing of the prince.