"Beverley brings the Regency period to life in this highly romantic story. She's most adept at making the reader care for her vividly portrayed characters. They 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 Rouges. Her Company of Rogues series is well-crafted, delicious and wickedly captivating." Romantic Times.
"Lighthearted and serious, sexy and sweet, this exquisitely rendered story is a perfect finale to this classic series." Library Journal.Chapter 1
London, May, 1817
A London night is full of sounds, but the barefoot woman huddled in a blanket had not let any of them halt her flight. A carriage, however, rolling along the street, lamps throwing light onto the dark pavement, that froze her in place.
It could hold members of the ton, the fashionable elite. People like her. She could ask for help.
Immediately, Lady Mara St. Bride rejected that. What use would safety be if the price was ruin? And she could survive this. She could.
She turned away, praying that the occupants of the carriage were dozing. That even if they were looking out of the window they'd see only a barefoot wretch huddled in a blanket. Two-a-penny in London, and no concern of theirs.
With her present luck the passengers were charitable saints inspired to rescue the unfortunate.
The vehicle rattled by, however, its lamplight gilding stones and railings to her left then to her right, then moving on, leaving her in the unquiet, dangerous dark.
Mara longed to stay huddled, but she forced her stockinged feet on. The pause had made her newly aware of rough flagstones shredding her silk stockings, of stones bruising her feet, and worst of all, the occasional something that squished stinking between her toes.
She shivered even though it wasn't particularly cold, trembling with a new awareness that London after midnight was not asleep, but full of life. The yowl of a cat, a rustle and scurry that was probably rats, and most dangerous of all -- distant human sounds, especially the music and voices that had to be from some sort of tavern.
In the last century this area close to St. James's Palace, had been the most fashionable part of London. There were still many fine streets, but woven among them, like worm holes in fruit, lay warrens of decay, vice, and violence.
Oh, to be in Mayfair, where gaslights triumphed over gloom. Here the only light came from the lamps kept lit outside the doors of responsible householders. It was enough to break the blackness, but not enough to tell what scurried in front of her and then away.
Light might be her enemy, however. It could lead to her being caught like this -- stripped down to shift and corset beneath the blanket. No, darkness was her friend, and there might be another friend nearby, if only she could find his house, if only he was home-
But then she heard voices. And coarse laughter.
Coming this way!
Stabbed with terror, Mara looked frantically for a hiding place. She should have seized the chance of rescue at any price.
The terrace of tall houses stretched unbroken left and right, the doorways too shallow to offer a hiding place. As usual, each had railings at the front guarding a stairwell down to the basement door.
She grabbed the nearest gate, but as she'd feared, it was locked. The men had turned onto the street. Four of them.
She backed away, blessing shadows now, wondering if she could climb over the spiked top without killing herself. Not with shift and blanket and trembling hands. She shook the next gate hard, and almost tumbled into the well when it swung inward. Thank you, God! She stumbled down the steep steps into the deepest shadow.
A stink made her gag. There was a dead animal here somewhere, giving off that particular sweet and foul odor. She turned her head away and breathed as little as she must as the booted feet and voices came closer, closer, closer.
She couldn't understand a word they were saying, so strong their accent was, but the tone was clear, and another burst of sniggering laughter melted her bones with terror.
Panting, leaning against the gritty stone wall, she waited until all sound of them faded. Why had she been such a fool? Why had she sneaked out of her sister's house at night?
Despite the stink, she longed to stay huddled in the dark, but daylight would make exposure more likely and her maid was waiting at her sister's home to let her in. If she didn't return soon, Ruth would panic and tell Ella and George and they'd tell her family, and they'd drag her home. And she would be so mortified about this whole stupidity.
She could escape this with few the wiser.
Mara made herself move and climb the gritty steps back to the blessedly deserted street. She scurried to a corner and peered up at the writing on the house. Upper Ely Street! She'd been right. She knew where she was.
Upper Ely Street wasn't far from St. James's Square and King Street, where Almack's Assembly Rooms were situated. Her sister had driven her around here, showing her the sights. Among them had been the Duke of Yeovil's mansion in King Charles Street.
That had been of interest because Lord Darius Debenham, the duke's younger son, was a family friend. Dare was their brother Simon's closest friend from his schooldays at Harrow, and he'd often spent weeks of summer at Brideswell.
They had both been part of a schoolboy group they called the Company of Rogues, and Mara had longed to belong. Simon, of course, had laughed at such aspirations.
Dare. Could he be nearby now? Would he help her? She and Ella had met him in St. James's Park the other day. He'd said he was living at Yeovil House. He'd even said that his parents were away, visiting somewhere. Oatlands? Chiswick?
She shook her head. What did that matter? Dare was as good as a brother to her. Like a brother he'd never let her forget her folly, but he'd get her out of this pickle and safely home and might even agree not to tattle to Ella and George.
She hurried on, seeking shadows, which wasn't hard when the only light here came from the lamps outside occasional doorways. Even responsible householders felt able to extinguish them at this late hour. In Mayfair, the streets were brightly lit by gas.
She remembered Ella saying, "I can't imagine why the Yeovils don't remove to a more modern address. Being close to St. James's Palace is of little use these days, and this part of town is becoming seedy."
Ella's Mayfair house was simply too far to go like this. A mile at least. If Mara's bare feet were capable of it, her nerves weren't. But she could make it to the next street.
She reached the corner looked for the name. King Charles Street. Thank the Lord!
Two solid ranks of identical four storey houses stretched before her, one on either side, however, and her mind blanked. Which one?
Then she got her wits back. Yeovil House was a mansion, taking up a large part in the center of one side. She hurried forward. It should be obvious, but in the dim light her panicked mind could make no sense of anything.
Then she saw it -- the stretch of buildings with only the one, central door.
She was safe!
The flare of relief faded.
Many houses here showed lights through curtains. One or two had enough lighted windows to suggest some sort of entertainment was taking place. Someone might emerge at any moment.
She couldn't hover here looking like a vagrant, but above her, Yeovil House loomed dark and quiet.
She clutched the gilded railings, strength draining away. Dare would have been in his bed hours ago. He wasn't completely recovered from his Waterloo wounds, and then there was the other problem. Didn't opium make people sleep a lot? Even if he was awake, how did she get in?
By day, Lady Mara St. Bride could simply knock. Now, if she managed to rouse a servant, they'd slam the door in her ragamuffin face.
She couldn't go on. The soles of her feet felt raw, her legs wobbled, and her heart raced with panic. She tested the gate in the railings, but of course, it was locked.
She looked up at four daunting floors of windows. Even if she knew one was Dare's bedroom she doubted she could throw a stone high enough to hit it. Throwing things had never been one of her skills, much to her brothers' disgust.
Overcome, she slumped on the lowest step, half hoping someone would come by and see her, as long as they were respectable enough to get her back to Grosvenor Square. Hang the consequences. Her family would be shocked and disappointed, but that would be that. Except that it would reinforce her father's opinion that London was a nasty, unhealthy place and he'd never let her visit here again.
It was a nasty, unhealthy place. It was crowded, dirty, and noisy, but she'd never expected it to be boring. She mopped tears with the scratchy blanket, knowing that wasn't precisely true. Her sister's house was boring, but it wasn't Ella's fault for being at the stage of pregnancy when she felt sick most of the day and exhausted the rest so that they never went anywhere.
If Mara had stayed home at Brideswell, this wouldn't be happening. She'd never have pitched herself into such a stupid, disastrous situation, but if she had, every house would have held a friend. What's more, she'd not be in danger of ruinous scandal. The whole village of Monkton St. Brides could know her folly and never let a word of it out to the wider world.
She took a deep breath and stood again. She'd tossed herself into this broth and she would get herself out of it. If she had to walk to Grosvenor Square she would.
Then she heard booted footsteps, coming down the street from her right. For a moment she thought of staying where she was and hoping the boots belonged to a good man, but her nerve failed her. No hope of refuge in the stairwell here, but the door was deeper set. She ducked in and huddled down.
The booted feet came closer -- then stopped.
Move on. Move on!
The steps turned toward her.
She squeezed her eyes shut as if that might help.
"Are you in need of help?" a gentle voice said.
Mara stiffened, peeped up over the edge of her blanket, then stood to throw herself into the tall man's arms.
"Dare. Oh, thank God. Dare. I'm in such a pickle! You have to help me..." She was sobbing now and couldn't help it.
"Mara?" He looked into her face with shock and confusion, but then said, "No, don't talk. Not here. Let's get you inside."
She heard the click of key in lock and the door opening, but was hardly sure how she came to be in the elegant hall. A glass-guarded candle shed faint light on a tiled floor, carved stairs, and Dare locking the front door. He was in jacket, breeches, and boots.
Her mind was still spinning, and she was clutching the blanket around her as if that would help her stay upright, but she was safe. Dare would save her.
When he turned to look at her, she said, "This is like the bull fighting, isn't it?"
"What?" He looked as if he doubted his senses.
"Remember? I decided to try to fight a bull as the Spanish do. You rescued me. I felt the same giddy relief to be alive."
He shook his head, but said, "And I'll rescue you again." He frowned at her feet, picked her up and carried her upstairs. "It'll have to be my bedroom. Don't worry about that. Whatever mad start you've fallen into this time, Imp, I'll sort it out."
The teasing name comforted her even more. That's what he'd called her in those past golden days when she'd been a child and he'd been the merriest young man she'd known.
She turned her face into his jacket and worked at not crying any more. She was safe. As safe as if she'd found refuge with one of her brothers. Safer. Dare wouldn't rip up at her the way Simon or Rupert would. And surely he wouldn't tell her father.
He opened a door then carried her to sit sideways on the high bed. "Take off the remains of your stockings then we'll clean you up."
He turned to walk to the wash-stand.
Mara's relief ebbed. He'd spoken so coldly, as if he were disgusted with her. Of course he was. She was disgusted with herself. What a mad, foolish start this had been. He must think her a crazy hoyden, and this time it hadn't been a bull, but a more dangerous male -- a man.
She sighed and carefully rolled down her silk stockings, but they no longer warranted care. They were embroidered with flowers and had cost a shameful amount, but now they were ruined. As she had almost been.
"They're off," she said, her voice squeaking, pulling the blanket back around herself. "But I have to get home, Dare. Now. Can you-"
"Not before I've checked your feet." He turned, bearing a bowl of water, a washcloth, and a towel, which he spread on the coverlet. "Turn and put your feet up on this."
She obeyed the impersonal order, her filthy, ruined stockings still clutched in her hand. She'd rather he rip up at her as Simon would. Too late, she realized that she wanted Dare to see her as a young lady now, an adult. Respectable.
He held out his hand and reluctantly she put the stockings into it. He tossed them in the fire then sat by her feet and raised each to study it.
"No blood, I don't think." He looked up, blue eyes steady. "All right. What happened, Imp?"
Again the name shook her. He'd started to call her Imp because she had the same dark hair shot with red that Simon had. Or because she'd been an impish child. From the perspective of a six-year-old, Simon's lordly friend had seemed awe-inspiring, even at fourteen. She'd reacted, of course, with some bit of cheek and he'd called her, "An imp from hell."
With his usual grin, which had always stolen her heart.
"Mara, what happened?"
She focussed and realized what the dark concern in his eyes meant.
"Oh! Nothing like that, Dare. I ran away."
For you impatient folks, there's another excerpt here.. Warning: it leaps ahead a few chapters.
Read more about the Company of Rogues by clicking here.
An annotated list of the books is here.
To Rescue A Rogue was published in September 2006.
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