Too Dangerous for a LadyA novel in the Company of Rogues' World.
In which one of the sisters of Rogue Roger Merryhew gets into danger.
Don't remember Roger? He went into the army and died before the series began.
A Romantic Times Top Pick!
"Beverley's brilliantly drawn protagonists shine in a story that puts equal emphasis on intrigue and love." Publishers Weekly
Buy in print or e-book now.
Lady Hermione Merryhew is the daughter of a marquess, but he was the Poor Marquess. To make matters worse, both his sons died so that the title and estates, such as they are, have gone to a distant relative. The last straw is that the heir, Porteous Merryhew, has offered to marry Hermione and she can't stand him. Can she refuse, however, when he offers to her her older sister and her family, who need the money.
Now a long lost maternal relative has been in touch to say that he's dying and wishes to see his only relatives. Great-uncle Peake was a black sheep who went to the Orient and family stories say he made a fortune there. So the whole family has set off to attend his death bed, hoping for an inheritance. At an inn they have two adjoining bedrooms and Hermione is looking after her two young nephews. To help settle them, she's extinguished the candles and is making do with firelight and dwelling on her fate if they don't inherit a fortune.
She'd responded to Porteous's proposal with a request for time to think, claiming discomfort with him replacing her dead brothers. He'd not pressed his suit, but she imagined him now like a cat watching a mouse hole, 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 leant 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. Thinking better of that, she eased to one side, toward the poker.
He turned sharply, and across the room his eyes caught and reflected the flame in the firelight. 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....
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 scream."
His response was to lean back against the door, arms folded.
She glanced at the door into 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 past 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 inn yard," 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.
It must be play-acting, 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 side-stepped 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?"
It was more convincing than John or Henry, but it wouldn't be real.
"Am I allowed to stay?" he asked.
"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."
"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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