The cab thumped in and out of a pothole. A shoulder bumped his. Hugh
Gurnsey-Barrett, sixth Marquess of Kingslea, ninth Earl of Bookingham,
locked his jaw. Cold brushed his exposed flesh. He hunkered further into his
borrowed sailor’s jacket. Awareness zapped his skin, electrified the hair on his
neck and arm. For an instant, flowers perfumed the air. A heartbeat later the
acrid coal smoke belching from thousands of chimneys stung his nose. The
flame flickered in the lamps as another chunk of missing cobblestones personified
Leather creaked. Wood groaned. The small interior tilted to the left. His
companion slid against his side. Her thigh flattened against his.
“Perhaps you’d prefer to drive. You have the necessary accouterments, I
“My expertise resides solely as a passenger. Not that I haven’t tried to
drive.” A smile teased her lips. Her gaze flitted to his before scampering back to
admire the horse’s head. “I simply don’t have that magic touch.”
Yet, she did seem to have bewitched him.
Bewitched. Logic railed at the fanciful notion. The lady’s attraction lay in
her presence, a presence that extended his adventure. Kingslea forced the sentiment
from mind. There could be no other reason. He wouldn’t allow it.
The lamp’s golden light bathed her high forehead, pert nose and stubborn
chin. Such scrutiny exercised his powers of observation and had absolutely
nothing to do with a fascination for her person or her unusual accomplishments.
White satin-clad fingers tucked a strand of loose hair behind a delicate ear.
They returned to her lap and clasped her black-clad ones. Mismatched gloves.
Amusement rattled his control.
“Have you found yet another fault with my attire?”
Blue eyes pinned his gaze. Irritation flashed in the azure depths, tightened
the delicate skin around her eyes. Guilt lashed his pleasure. This night’s adventure
had bruised her delicate complexion. His poorly verbalized surprise had
furthered her discomfort. Well done, Kingslea. Shall we move up to snatching
candy from babes?
Charm had never numbered among his assets. Neither did social grace.
Hell, the list of his failings was endless. Parallel lines appeared on her forehead.
Still, only a cad wouldn’t try to make amends for his crass bumbling.
“Who could fault perfection?” The praise tripped from his lips. Perhaps
he had learned a thing or two in the past five years.
Her thick lashes met then parted. Pleasure bloomed in her cheeks.
“But you are looking for something.”
“Always.” Restlessness prodded his relaxed muscles. He was always looking
for something. The captain’s logbook poked his belly. He had thought he had
found it, yet the dawn’s light revealed no solutions, only more mysteries.
First, the collector of vouchers. Now the woman.
No, not woman. Lady. An American lady.
“Fiona.” Her name whispered across his palate. His gaze dropped to her
blue-clad thigh. He’d never understood the attraction of a trim ankle, but such
a well-formed limb…
His mind recalled the press of her bottom against him like a favored
memory. Heat simmered in his gut. God help mankind should women ever
take to wearing trousers.
“Is something amiss?” Her hand rested on his forearm.
His hand covered hers. So small and delicate, yet powerful, too. Heat
seared his flesh, branding his brain with images better suited for the bedroom.
His bedroom, with her black hair tumbled around her shoulders. Kingslea
blinked away the images.
“A man should have some control.”
“You handled the situation admirably.” She squeezed his forearm. “Please
don’t allow your passionate nature to overset your nerves.”
“Passionate nature?” He ignored the spurt of pleasure. Her personality
contained as many facets as the stained glass windows in St. Paul’s Cathedral
did shards of color. Whereas he—he was a pane of clear lead glass. Kingslea the
Cold. Bookingham the Bore. The adolescent taunts, the adult classifications.
“I can assure you, madam, I do not have a passionate nature.”
“No, of course not.”
His mouth opened. The words intended to disabuse her of such a foolish
notion never materialized. His teeth clicked together. If she wanted to see him
in such a manner…
Kingslea shrugged off his thoughts. It was the disguise—bronze skin,
weathered features and ragged clothing. Sailors battled the elements every day.
The rational explanation echoed in his hollow chest.
“It was very kind of your coachman to wait.”
“Houseman? Kind? Such words rarely dwell in the same sentence.”
Another pothole rattled the cab. Fiona braced herself against the grip but
still bounced against him. He ignored the ache filling his chest as she scooted
The damp and an injury had more to do with Houseman’s patience than
By rights, the valet-cum-coachman should be recovering from his gunshot
wound instead of charging all over London. Unease shook Kingslea’s equanimity.
The bullet would have ended his life if Houseman hadn’t interfered. Another
errand for an anonymous debt collector. A deadly errand. Still, what
could possibly connect the retrieval of personal letters and the theft of a captain’s
What besides his stepmother’s penchant for whist?
“Hugh.” Her hand tightened on his. “Hugh?”
Kingslea shoved aside the disjointed thoughts. He would find the connection
later. His gaze followed the curve of his companion’s smooth cheek before
settling on her eyes.
“Thank you for leading me from the shipyard. I had been wandering those
lanes for at least an hour without much luck.” She tugged her cape close. “I
shudder to think what would have happened if Bosson had found us in one of
those narrow alleys.”
“Bosson?” Suspicion itched Hugh’s skin. How did the woman know the
“You know, the Revere’s first mate. His attentions had become a trifle too
forward since Captain List disappeared last night. Or, more precisely, the
night before last.” She smoothed the thought from her forehead. “He was
planning something. Something unpleasant. I thought about leaving when the
captain didn’t return for dinner, but Milton talked me out of it. Now, I’m glad
he did.” Fiona beamed at him. “Your rescue is certainly something I will tell my
Doubts solidified, connected divergent tracts of thought. His stepmother
had been eager for him to redeem her debts. All too impatient for him to make
tonight’s trip. Bloody hell. The woman had baited her trap well. His folded
arms contained the rage roaring to life in his breast.
“You timed your arrival perfectly. A dashing prince stepping from the mist
just when I thought all was lost.” Admiration blazed in her eyes.
“Hardly a prince.” Bitter residue coated his tongue. Merely a second son
who had the misfortune to inherit a penniless title. A title his stepmother
seemed determined to auction off to the highest bidder. Preferably an American
heiress with a bottomless purse. Did the Marchioness know how unconventional
her earmarked daughter-in-law was? Perhaps Elspeth thought to
mold her as she had worked to reform him?
“Certainly, a more noble man could not be found in all of England.”
“You’d be surprised,” Kingslea said dryly.
So his stepmother had decided to bring Polite Society to his door, since he
refused to cross its threshold. Only one question remained—Was Fiona Grey a
pawn in his stepmother’s machinations, or was she party to the plot?
“London’s aristocracy would be better for your admittance.” Candor
blazed across her features.
Hope flickered before he extinguished the flame. He had been fooled once
Lilly’s porcelain complexion replaced Fiona’s smiling face.
r r r
“Don’t you see? Once the duke has his heir we can be together.”
“And you will be another man’s wife. Marry me, Lilly. Now, before it is too
late.” Raw need was in his words.
“Father would never settle for a second son. He wants a title for his
money, and your brother is far too healthy.”
r r r
He shook off the past.
“I dub thee Sir Hugh the Rescuer, Knight of the London Dock and Protector
of its people.” Fiona touched her bullwhip to his shoulder.
“I prefer to remain as I am.”
She shrugged. “Just as well, I think only a queen can knight a man.”
Shadows moved in the mist. Shop clerks and street vendors rushed along
the sidewalks. London was awake. Awake and aware. Someone was bound to
notice Fiona’s arrival. Her chance of a match would narrow if someone told of
her arrival with him. Not that anyone would look beyond his disguise.
But if his presence compromised her, honor would provide the means for
his stepmother to get her way. A wise man would leave Fiona before the trap
was sprung. Kingslea settled into the leather. This enemy required further
“Hugh?” She turned her large blue eyes on him.
“Why are you dressed as a sailor?”
He started, shaking off his lethargy like a dog did water on his coat.
“That is what I am.”
“True, your disguise is almost complete.” Fiona smiled.
Coy or cunning? Kingslea scratched his chin. A day’s growth of beard
rasped his skin.
“I can assure you my clothes are those of a genuine sailor.”
“Of that, I have no doubt.” Humor snapped in her eyes. “But you have
recently repaired the shoulders.” Her touch danced over the stitches closing a
popped seam. “This herringbone stitch is not in keeping with the long stitch
used by a man of the sea.”
Hugh caught her hand and dropped it into her lap. Blast! Leave it to a
woman to notice something as mundane as stitching. A woman…
“Perhaps I have a wife to repair my clothing.”
“Perhaps, but your hands are too soft for a sailor.” She clasped his left hand
between hers. Her thumb brushed the soft pads then stilled. She cleared her
throat then tucked the black-clad hand behind her back.
“Of course, most sailors’ coloring doesn’t bleed onto their collar.” She
waved her white-gloved hand near the lamp, highlighting the reddish brown
streaked across her gloves. “A true salt’s tan covers more flesh than his shirt,
whereas I’d bet your sun-kissed skin stops an inch or two under your sleeves.”
The truth of her logic burned Kingslea’s neck, stained his cheeks. She had
ripped the disguise from his person while maintaining her own mask. Better to
retreat than to find yourself at the altar. He touched his hand to his chest.
“You have found me out, madam.”
She blinked once and cocked her head to the left.
“Yet I have discovered nothing.” Her dichromatic palms flashed at him.
“I fear you have discerned too much.” On impulse, he caught her gloved
hand and raised it to his lips. Tingles raced across the sensitive flesh as gardenias
and soap overwhelmed his senses. He dropped her hand and banged his
fist on the roof, driving her touch from his skin. “Houseman. Stop here.”
The cab halted near a towering elm.
“I have pressing business.” Kingslea tossed the door open and jumped
from the cab. Green and brown swirled as he pivoted. The door slammed shut
as he stepped back. “Houseman will see you safely to your destination.”
“At least tell me who you are.”
Who he was? Who was she? Pawn or plotter? He would know once the
captain’s logbook was claimed.
“I am whoever I need to be.” He touched his forehead and sketched a bow.
“And to you as well.” She raised her hand in salute than held the back of it
to her cheek.
Kingslea felt her gaze on him as he picked his way through Hyde Park.
Soon he would reach Speaker’s Corner. Soon he would have proof of his stepmother’s
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