Too Dangerous For a Lady

BOOK: Too Dangerous For a Lady
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RAVES FOR THE NOVELS
OF JO BEVERLEY

“Ms. Beverley's opulent descriptions of the glittering ton, with their witty dialogues and lively dalliances set against a dark background of intrigue, continue to elevate this series beyond the normal historical romance.”

—Smexy Books

“A fabulous, intelligent tale.”

—Genre Go Round Reviews

“Extraordinary storyteller Beverley mixes witty repartee, danger, and simmering sensuality with her strong and engaging characters, including a fetching Papillon, in this delightful, delicious gem of a book.”

—
Romantic Times
(top pick)

“With wit and humor, Jo Beverley provides a wonderful eighteenth-century romance starring two amiable lead characters whose first encounter is one of the best in recent memory. The tale is filled with nonstop action.”

—The Best Reviews

“Enchanting . . . a delightful blend of wit, intrigue, and emotional victories.”

—
The State
(Columbia, SC)

“[Readers] will be engrossed by this emotionally packed
story of great love, tremendous courage, and the return of those attractive and dangerous men known as the Rogues.”

—Joan Hammond

“[Beverley] can be counted on to come up with clever and creative ways of mixing passion and intrigue to create a beguiling love story.”

—Booklist

“A delightful, intricately plotted, and sexy romp.”

—Library Journal

“I found myself enjoying every minute of the relationship in this story of love, hope, and increments of witty humor. As usual, a Malloren novel is a keeper.”

—Rendezvous

“A well-crafted story and an ultimately very satisfying romance.”

—The Romance Reader

“[Beverley] has truly brought to life a fascinating, glittering, and sometimes dangerous world.”

—Mary Jo Putney

“Another triumph.”

—Affaire de Coeur

“Wickedly delicious. Jo Beverley weaves a spell of sensual delight with her usual grace and flair.”

—Teresa Medeiros

“A fast-paced adventure with strong, vividly portrayed
characters . . . wickedly, wonderfully sensual and gloriously romantic.”

—Mary Balogh

Also by Jo Beverley

Available from New American Library

REGENCY

THE ROGUE'S WORLD

A Shocking Delight

Lady Beware

To Rescue a Rogue

The Rogue's Return

Skylark

St. Raven

Hazard

“The Demon's Mistress”
in
In Praise of Younger Men

The Devil's Heiress

The Dragon's Bride

Three Heroes
(omnibus edition)

THE MALLOREN WORLD

Seduction in Silk

An Unlikely Countess

The Secret Duke

The Secret Wedding

A Lady's Secret

A Most Unsuitable Man

Winter Fire

Devilish

Secrets of the Night

Something Wicked

My Lady Notorious

MEDIEVAL ROMANCES

Lord of Midnight

Dark Champion

Lord of My Heart

OTHER

Forbidden Magic

Lovers and Ladies
(omnibus edition)

Lord Wraybourne's Betrothed

The Stanforth Secrets

The Stolen Bride

Emily and the Dark Angel

ANTHOLOGIES

“The Raven and the Rose” in
Chalice of Roses

“The Dragon and the Virgin Princess” in
Dragon Lovers

“The Trouble with Heroes” in
Irresistible Forces

SIGNET SELECT

Published by the Penguin Group

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New York, New York 10014

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A Penguin Random House Company

First published by Signet Select, an imprint of New American Library,

a division of Penguin Group (USA) LLC

Copyright © Jo Beverley, 2015

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

SIGNET SELECT and logo are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) LLC.

ISBN 978-0-698-17570-9

PUBLISHER
'
S
NOTE

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

Version_1

Contents

Praise

Also by Jo Beverley

Title page

Copyright page

Dedication

Acknowledgments

 

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Epilogue

 

Author's Note

Letter to Reader

Excerpt from
The Viscount Needs a Wife

For Persephone,
who will be one year old
when this book is published

Acknowledgments

I had help from various people in researching this book, including a doctor who declined to be named.

I'm a “Lancashire lass,” so it was a pleasure to set a book partly in the northwest. My friends Anne and John Ward have shown me around the Wirral on many occasions, inspiring me to set part of this book there. Anne also did a bit of local research for me.

Fellow author Lynne Connolly advised me on Warrington.

The Birkenhead Historical Society supplied the date of the introduction of the steam ferry from Tranmere, which, as it was in 1817, mattered to me. Yes, Hermione can see it chugging across the Mersey.

My friend John Park, a science fiction author and chemist, was very helpful about the chemical side of antimonial medicine and about explosive potential.

In searching the Web for information about Northumberland coal mining in the Regency period, I came across Alan Fryer's fascinating blog, Northumberland Past. Alan cheerfully put up with my questions and supplied maps and technical explanations so that I could tie up a thread. You'll see what I mean as you
read.

Chapter 1

September 1817
Ardwick, Lancashire
The King's Head Inn

T
he 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?

Tinker, tailor,

Soldier, sailor,

Rich man, poor man,

Beggar man . . .

Thief.

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.

He nodded.

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?”

“Ned.”

It was more convincing than John or Henry, but it wouldn't be real.

“Am I allowed to stay?” he asked.

“No.”

“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.”

“You're deranged.”

“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.

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