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The Raider's Bride Mass Market Paperback – February 1, 1994


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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 314 pages
  • Publisher: Pocket (February 1, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0671755080
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671755089
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 4.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,241,309 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The wealthy and seemingly heartless Ian Blackheath is also Pendragon, the defender of American colonists and the scourge of Tories. He has sworn never to marry after seeing his mother fatally used by his father as a son-producing machine. In 1772, When Ian's estranged sister dies, leaving him her bratty eight-year-old daughter, Lucy ("I don't like other girls. They don't do what I tell them to"), Ian plans to ship the child off to boarding school. He brings her to British dressmaker Emily d'Autrecourt for some clothing, and she steals a wooden doll. But this doll contains a secret message for the Crown, for whom Emily is spying in exchange for a fresh start in the colonies. To get the doll back, Emily becomes Lucy's governess, and she and Ian find themselves strongly attracted to each other. Cates ( Crown of Flame ) compensates for a long set-up--which includes Emily's loss of her husband and young daughter--with endearing characters. Smart-mouthed Lucy is a refreshing contrast to the angelic children often found in romance novels, and Ian and Emily are realistically vulnerable. But an unbelievable ending mars this otherwise original story.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter 1

Candlelight splintered in a sea of prisms, flinging miniature rainbows across the room aptly named the chambre d'amour at Blackheath Hall.

It was a room intended to tempt angels away from heaven's gates -- a sensual banquet of texture and color. Mythical lovers were painted in carnal ecstasy from floor to ceiling. Thick white furs were scattered near the hearth, while imported candies called Nipples of Venus waited on a silver tray to be tasted by tongues hungry from love play.

Countless women had been entertained in Ian Blackheath's notorious den of sin at house parties as decadent as any Roman orgy and at gambling fetes in which a king's ransom had been won or lost on the turn of a single card.

Yet beneath this seeming decadence even more sinister affairs had taken place. Blackheath -- that ruthless speculator whose loyalty was said to reach no deeper than the bottom of his own purse -- had enriched his treasury here with patriot coin.

Contraband weapons had been bartered in the dark of night. Precious guns and black powder that had been smuggled into the colonies on Ian's fleet of ships had been sold to desperate men eager to fuel the fires of revolution -- a cause so noble that everyone was certain a soulless opportunist like Blackheath could never understand it.

But tonight there would be nothing so amusing as loveplay or so exhilarating as a revolution happening in these opulent rooms. Rather, Ian could sense another type of battle brewing, if the expression in Anthony Gray's hazel eyes was any indication.

Ian supposed he should consider himself lucky that Tony had waited for the servants to scatter to the far wings of the house before beginning his tirade. But the footman who had served refreshments after they'd arrived at the plantation house had disappeared moments before, and it seemed Ian's brief reprieve was at an end.

Resigned, he lounged against the back of a crimson divan, and stretched his long legs out before him, a generous glass of brandy cradled in one hand.

He sighed. "I suppose it would be useless to point out that you could have followed the example of the other men and been indulging in your lady's charms at this very moment instead of wearing a rut in my Oriental carpets and peeling the paint off my murals with the heat of your scowls."

"What I'd like to do is wring your bloody neck!" The violence in Gray's usually reasonable tone made Ian grimace. "You cold-blooded son of a bitch!" Tony raged. "I practically begged you not to entomb Crane alive. Damn it, there was no reason to do it."

Ian skimmed his fingers beneath the thick fall of his dark mane, kneading an area where the knot of his mask had chafed hours before. "I should have guessed what your fierce insistence upon trailing me home from our raids meant -- a lecture in brigand etiquette."

"Damn it, Ian, this is no jest! I -- "

"Have mercy, Tony. Have mercy," Ian groaned, interrupting him. He leaned his head back against the red cushions. "The brandy has not yet taken effect. I assure you, there is no reason to stir yourself up into a tempest, especially over Lemming Crane."

"Oh, no," Tony blustered. "Nothing to stir myself up about. You just made me party to murder, for God's sake! Nothing at all out of the ordinary!" Tony's face washed red with fury. "I don't mind thievery. Robbing tax collectors has been tolerably amusing. And I've never balked at teaching some tyrannizing ruffian a lesson for tormenting someone weaker than himself. I've even grown fond of wearing those ridiculous masks and playing Robin of the Hood! But this business with Crane...it makes my blood run cold! I should have told you to go to bloody hell!"

"That would have made things a bit awkward, don't you think?" Ian observed idly. "Insubordination can be dashed inconvenient."

"Inconvenient!" Gray let out an impressive string of oaths, driving the toe of his boot into the leg of a mahogany table. A statue of Zeus in the guise of a swan seducing Leda teetered precariously, threatening to tumble into the tray of sweetmeats.

"There's no need to attack the statuary, Tony," Ian said, reaching out to steady the statue. "I can assure you that your soul is no more blackened by what happened tonight than it ever was. Lemming Crane will be Pendragon's guest only for this one evening. Then, when he is sufficiently miserable, I shall slip into a rear entrance of the cave and lead him back into the light -- along with a list of others foolish enough to serve as English spies."

If anything, Tony's face grew more thunderous, almost sick with betrayal. "You never intended to leave him there?" Tony gripped his own glass of brandy so hard Ian expected it to shatter. "All this time you planned to let him go?"

Ian raised one dark brow and nodded in assent.

"You bastard!" Tony hurled his glass against the wall, scattering shards of crystal across the room. "You could have told me what you were about!"

Ian cast a dismissive glance at the bits of glass. "I didn't know I was required to consult you."

"You always have before! From the moment we conceived the idea of Pendragon -- "

"We were both as drunk as lords that night, if I remember. A condition I intend to seek out tonight with great fervor."

"Ah, yes. Get bloody drunk! That way you won't have to deal with anything or anyone. You won't have to be responsible for your goddamn stubborn -- "

"How I choose to deal with my life is none of your concern," Ian said, cutting him off. "I know that you think I can't get along without your advice, Tony, but we'll both have to get used to some changes. When you wed the virtuous Miss Mabley three months from now I can hardly be running off to your bridal bower to discuss the most expedient way to extract information from a spy."

"Why the hell not?"

"You know why!" Ian snapped savagely. "On the night we decided to take the path of rebellion, we agreed we'd involve no women or children in our lives. We're hunted men, Tony. And a knife blade held to the throat of anyone we loved would jeopardize not only the two of us but the entire band as well. Tell me, if Atwood or Glendenning had your Nora trussed up in a cozy little cell, what would you sacrifice to save her? How far would you go to -- Hellfire, what's the point in hashing through all this again?" Ian bit off a curse. "It's for the best that you leave the raiders anyway. Any man as infatuated with a woman as you are with Nora can hardly be expected to summon up devotion to any cause except bedding her."

"You don't understand, do you?" Tony asked tightly. "I love her, but that changes nothing about how I feel regarding freedom. Independence. Because of Nora I have more to fight for. I want to start a family with her someday, Ian. A future -- "

Ian gave a dark laugh. "And to think everyone considers you the rational one between us. Ah, well, I've resigned myself to the fact that I can do nothing to sway you from this marriage, any more than I could stop you from getting into that duel with Manderly where you almost got your head blown off."

"You would compare love to that! By God, there are times when I think you've succeeded in forcing ice to flow through your veins in place of blood. Just two weeks ago you received a letter telling you that your only sister was dead, and you didn't show so much as a flicker of emotion. You merely tripled your wager and tossed out the dice."

Ian looked away as images rose unbidden in his mind. His sister, beautiful, selfish Celestia Blackheath, forever seeking love from any man who would pay attention to her, from their dancing master to their father's aged friends.

Ian had been just fifteen when he'd last seen her, but he would never forget how her eyes had shimmered with hate. She had loathed him, and he supposed he couldn't blame her. He had been Maitland Blackheath's only son, worthy of their father's constant albeit negative attention, while she was a mere daughter, to be shoved aside as if she were invisible.

There had been a time when Ian had wanted to mend things between them. Wished that they could share the grief over their mother's death, their father's selfishness.

But there had been no room in Celestia's heart for forgiveness. No common ground for them to forge even the most fragile tie. There had only been the end of any illusion that a family had once existed in Maitland Blackheath's elegant Boston home.

And now Celestia was dead.

Ian had lounged at the gaming table after he received the news, knowing that he should feel something -- sympathy, understanding, grief -- for this woman who had shared his blood. Instead, he had tightened a hard shell around his emotions, and had cast out the dice....

He drove away the memories and let his mouth curve into an arrogant grin, masking his feelings from Tony's perceptive gaze. "I won the wager that night, if I remember. Quite a handsome sum."

"Damn you, Ian, stop this!"

"You must forgive me if I don't have your reverence for the sacred institution of family, Tony. My father was a selfish bastard hungry for sons and my mother was a gentle, if weak, woman, desperate to do her duty by him."

Ian drained the brandy in a fiery gulp, the liquor loosening his tongue as he told about the childhood he'd barely spoken of in his fifteen-year friendship with Tony Gray. "I watched my mother waste away through three miscarriages and two stillbirths. I saw her bury three children who died before their first birthday."

He twirled the stem of his goblet in restless fingers, staring at the candle fire dancing in the cuts in the crystal. "She was bedridden when I was fourteen, and the doctor said there must be no more children. When I was fifteen, I watched her stomach start to swell, and I knew my father had refused to keep his infernal breeches buttoned."

Tony's face whitened with compassion. "I'm sorry."

Ian winced, uncomfortable as always at Tony's uncanny ability to see past his carefully guarded facade to the man beneath. He forced a bitter laugh. "My father was sorry, too. But he was far too virtuous a man to seek his pleasure in another woman's bed. Rather than condemn his immortal soul to hell for a dalliance, he condemned my mother to a slow, torturous death. That is what love means to me, Tony."

Ian stiffened, the words he had spoken suddenly seeming to penetrate the haze of brandy and bitter memories, making him aware of just how much he had exposed to his friend, just how vulnerable he'd allowed himself to become.

"It doesn't have to be that way," Gray said quietly. "Before I met Nora I wouldn't have believed that -- "

"Enough, by God's blood," Ian snapped. "I don't think I could endure listening to another litany of Miss Mabley's virtues. If you've finished lecturing me about my mistreatment of Lemming Crane, I'd appreciate it if you'd go off to woo your ladylove at once."

Tony started to protest, stopped. "All right. No more about Nora. But as to Crane..." Tony paced to the window, shattered glass crunching beneath his boots. "Ian, I was not the only one among the raiders who was troubled by what happened tonight. I could feel their horror at what you were doing. They were afraid of you. Sickened by what you had made them a part of."

"Fear of the demon Pendragon is the most effective weapon we have against the English. I'm certain that by morning half of Virginia will have heard of the fate Crane supposedly suffered. Any spies left in this vicinity should be fleeing from Williamsburg in terror."

"But your own men believe you murdered someone in cold blood."

"It's possible that their fear of me is the most important of all. It will keep them from questioning my orders at times when the merest hesitation might cost them their lives. I don't doubt it will save their necks one day."

"Either that or force them to betray you!"

"Does it really matter whether it's one of the Crown's wolves who unmasks me or one of my own men?" Ian stared meditatively into his brandy, swirling the amber liquid around the crystal bowl of his glass. "I suppose there are those who would say it should. I fear I am far too cynical to trouble myself over such vague distinctions. No matter who brings me to face the king's justice, I will end up just as dead."

"Sometimes I think that is what you want."

Ian gave a shrug edged with an unaccustomed weariness. "Even the most brilliant gambler eventually faces ruin, Tony," he said. "We cast the dice every time we put on our masks and ride. Someday, my friend, even Pendragon will have to lose." Ian finished the last of his brandy, grateful to feel it smoothing the rough edges the night's hunt had left inside him. "Of course," he observed, "I have read that death is the greatest adventure of all. What do you think, Tony?"

Ian levered himself to his feet and crossed to where a decanter glistened on a rosewood stand. Removing the cut-glass stopper, he poured himself another drink.

He drank deep of the brandy, hoping to dull emotions that were too sharp and cutting. Emotions he had escaped so often at the bottom of a bottle or in the arms of a beautiful woman.

But tonight he sensed that even those familiar remedies would not ease the restlessness inside him. He glimpsed Tony regarding him with those eyes that reminded him of a spaniel's -- soulful and caring, with an odd innocence despite years of hell-raking almost as distinguished as Ian's own.

Ian stripped off his frock coat and waistcoat, flinging them on the siège d'amour, a piece of furniture designed for entertaining multiple ladyloves at once. But even the sight of the damask-covered sège increased Ian's vague sense of loss, for it had been a gift from Tony, given as a jest one Christmas, in the days before Gray's devotion to the innocent Nora had dulled his thirst for such scandalous adventures.

With impatient hands Ian ripped free the neckcloth that had fallen in cascades of lace down his chest. "I think I preferred it when you were ready to call me out for a duel, rather than having you stand there with the look of a father confessor on your face."

"Then I'll leave you in peace -- just as soon as you tell me when we are to release our friend Mr. Crane from the cave."

"We?"

"Ian, until I place my ring on Nora's finger, you will not be rid of me. Crane must be half crazed by now, and a madman is a dangerous thing."

Ian forced a low chuckle. "Don't be an old woman, Gray! Crane will be so shaken after a brief stay as our guest that I could hold a loaded pistol to my heart, and I doubt he could manage to pull the trigger."

"In your current state you'd probably let him try it!" Tony snapped, but Ian could see him battling valiantly against the smile that threatened the corners of his mouth. "Tell me when you're leaving, or..."

The words died in Tony's throat, Ian tensing as well as they caught the sound of running feet hastening toward the chamber.

"I thought you gave orders we were not to be disturbed," Tony said, his gaze narrowing on the door.

"I did. Unless the blasted house is burning down, my servants should know better."

One hand strayed to the hilt of the dagger concealed in Ian's Russian leather boot, while Tony's fingers rested with deceptive negligence on the hilt of the dress sword that hung at his waist.

With instinct honed in countless nights of raiding, Ian took up a place favorable to defense and struck a casual pose, while Tony did the same.

At that moment the door flew open, revealing a black youth of about sixteen dressed in silver livery. Obsidian eyes that had always snapped with fierce loyalty were filled with distress.

"Sir, beg pardon to disturb," Priam stammered, "b -- but it's the most awful thing..."

Ian's gut clenched at the stricken expression on the youth's face. "Out with it, man," Ian snapped. "What the devil is amiss?"

"Some -- some person is here, sir, and I wasn't sure what to do about it."

"Soldiers?"

"No! It -- it is a...a vicar, sir!" Priam said in a tone one would have used to describe the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

"What the blazes?" Ian's hand fell away from his knife as he gaped at this young man who had distracted whole companies of soldiers with an icy calm and had suffered the even greater danger of juggling lies to Ian's more temperamental mistresses when his master was using the excuse of a romantic tryst as an alibi.

A vicar. Priam's words echoed through Ian's mind. Fury rushed in to replace the tension of moments before. By God's blood, hadn't he endured enough? Ian thought. Crane's wailing, Tony's temper fit, his own grim memories? Now he was to be accosted by a vicar because Priam had failed to fling the man out the door?

"Let me make certain I understand this," Ian said with quiet rage. "You raced down here, making me think half the English army was storming the gates, when it was nothing but that idiot Dobbins plaguing me?"

The servant's Adam's apple bobbed in his throat. "Yes, sir. I mean, no, sir. It's not Mr. Dobbins, sir. It's someone I've never seen hereabouts. A Mr. Edric Clyvedon."

In spite of the tension of moments before, Tony gave a low chuckle. "Clyvedon? I've never heard of him, praise the saints. Dobbins must be recruiting holy men from other parishes to battle for your soul, Ian."

"All the more reason to hurl this Clyvedon idiot off my property at once. Priam, you tell this bloody vicar the same thing I've told Dobbins for the last fifteen years. Let him go to the devil in his own way and leave me in peace to go in mine."

"I tried to tell him that, sir," Priam insisted. "Well, I didn't speak to him that way, but I told him you were otherwise engaged and that you had an aversion to vicars. But the child...Mr. Clyvedon said you must receive her or he would come and haul you out of this wing himself."

"Child?" Sweet Christ, could this abominable mess get any worse? "What the devil -- "

Tony's face glowed with a touch of his old amusement. "Some former mistress staking her claim upon your purse, papa?" Gray inquired so sweetly it set Ian's teeth on edge. "And after all the time you've spent lecturing the rest of us about taking precautions. To think that you might have grown careless."

"Close your mouth, Gray, or I might decide to shoot you -- that is, after I clean up whatever disaster has just landed on my doorstep." Ian started to stalk from the room, but Tony stopped him, pressing the glass of brandy back into his hand.

"You'd better take this with you," Tony said, his eyes twinkling. "I have a feeling you're going to need it."

"What I need is to be left the bloody hell alone." Ian snatched the glass from his friend's hand. "Do me the courtesy of being halfway to Pennington Grove when I return to this chamber."

"I am, as ever, your obedient servant." Tony sketched him a mocking bow. "That is, as long as you tell me what time we are to meet tomorrow."

"At dawn, then, if it's the only way to be rid of you," Ian snapped. "See to it that Mr. Gray is gone when I return, Priam, or it will go the worse for both of you." Ian spun around and stormed out of the room, Tony's chuckles echoing behind him.

Ah, yes, this was so blasted amusing!

All Ian needed was more damned upheaval! One time in his whole benighted life he had wanted to toast his feet at his own hearth, drink his own brandy, and spend the night sleeping in his own blasted bed.

Alone.

But no. He had to be pursued to his very doorstep, tormented first by Tony and now by this vicar.

Ian could only hope the man possessed a strong instinct for self-preservation. Because if he did, one glance at the master of Blackheath plantation would send the man scurrying away as if the hounds of hell were about to devour him.

Ian glimpsed a housemaid whispering behind her hand to a serving wench, and the fury tightened in his chest, growing fiercer with each curious pair of eyes he passed.

By the time he reached the withdrawing room in which Priam had placed the visitors, Ian's head was throbbing and the brandy Tony had given him was nothing but fragrant fumes at the bottom of the glass.

With the palm of his hand, Ian banged open the door. A remarkably short man of about fifty shot from his perch on a spindle-legged chair as if he'd been fired from a cannon. The man, presumably Clyvedon, looked as if he'd been tossed around hell on the devil's own pitchfork.

Circles of sweat marked his frock coat. His wig was askew. His fingers twined almost frantically about a plain linen handkerchief while his eyes were round and somewhat alarmed, as if the man feared that someone was about to set his coattails on fire.

His unkempt appearance was an astonishing contrast to the child who was enthroned on the settee, her azure satin slippers resting upon a velvet footstool, her tiny figure resplendent in a gown of rose-colored satin so elaborate it could have clothed the finest lady at King George's court.

Honey-gold curls threaded through with strands of taffy color were arranged with amazing intricacy about her small face, while her chin tipped up in an expression of haughtiness that seemed out of place on a child who could have been no more than eight years old.

Ian felt his brows knit as his glare brushed over the girl, but her cornflower-blue eyes showed not the slightest bit of childlike unease. Rather, she regarded him with the disdain of a queen.

"A gentleman does not present himself to a lady without his frock coat on," the child announced, delicately pinching her turned-up nose. "Especially when he smells of brandy."

"My dear Miss Lucy," the vicar protested, mopping the fresh sweat off his brow with the damp kerchief. "Please! You must not begin by displaying bad manners!"

The child merely shook out the lace on her petticoats, as unfazed by the vicar's reproach as she had been by Ian's glare.

"I have a fractious nose," the child proclaimed, staring down that offended feature at Ian. "My mama always said so."

"Then you can carry your fractious nose off and bury it in your mama's skirts," Ian snapped.

The child's rosebud lips pressed together, her brows lowering over thickly lashed eyes. "My mama is dead." The words were flung out not in childish grief but rather in the manner of a duelist slapping the face of his enemy with a glove in challenge.

Ian stiffened as if the child had done just that, a sick sense of regret flooding through him.

"I'm sorry." He tried to gentle his voice, but the child would have none of it. She continued to scowl back at him, her chin thrust out.

"I heard Mokey, the groom, say that my mama died in jealous fits. She tried to shoot Mr. Avery, and he wouldn't let her, so she got shot instead. I don't believe Mokey, though," the child said almost to herself. "Mr. Avery wouldn't shoot Mama. He brought me sweetmeats."

"Merciful I heavens." The minister gasped. "How many times have I told you that you must not speak of such ugly things?"

"It is the truth, isn't it? About my mama? And you and Mrs. Clyvedon are always saying I'll roast in hell if I don't tell the truth."

The child spoke so calmly that she might have been discussing a play she had seen rather than the murder of her mother -- a tragedy of such magnitude that most children would have been in hysterics.

More unnerved than he cared to admit, Ian scoured his memory for all the mistresses he'd had through the years. More than a few of them had exhibited the type of dangerous temper the child's story seemed to imply.

Dear God, could this child be his?

He searched her face for anything familiar -- his eyes, Maria Hobart's mouth, Angelica Mardinet's smile -- but there was no physical resemblance to Ian or to any of his former lovers.

He should have been relieved. Instead he merely felt more off-balance.

And yet there was a certain toughness in the child's face that nudged at Ian's heart. He set the glass on the table and searched for the right words to say. "I'm very sorry about whatever misfortune has befallen you, Miss Lucy, but I cannot see what this could have to do with me."

Those wide blue eyes leveled at him like the twin barrels of a gun. "You have to take care of me now."

"Me? Play guardian to a child? Impossible!" Ian's gaze flashed from her to the vicar in disbelief. "Clyvedon, what kind of trick are you trying to play here? I'll not tolerate -- "

"It's not a trick!" Lucy cried, and for the first time, a flicker of something vulnerable entered her eyes. "My mama is dead, and you have to take care of me."

Ian rounded on the vicar, furious, confused. "You tell me right now what the hell this is about. Who is this child's mother, and what the devil claim does she have on me?"

The vicar started to loop his arm instinctively about the child's shoulder, but at Lucy's glare he snatched it back as if he feared she'd bite it off. He cleared his throat. "This is Miss Lucy Dubbonet, sir. Your sister Celestia's child."

"Celestia?" Ian gaped at the little girl, feeling as if his soul had split, plunging him into the dark, cold places inside him. He turned back to the vicar. "What you claim is impossible. My sister couldn't have carried a child. She made certain of -- "

He glanced at the child and bit off the words, but they went on, relentless, in his mind. Celestia had been so frightened by what had happened to her mother that she'd made an old Indian woman deaden her womb when she was just sixteen....

"I assure you, Miss Lucy is indeed your sister's child," Clyvedon insisted.

"Well, what about the girl's father, then? The child didn't just appear beneath a cabbage leaf, did she? Believe me, Celestia was not the type to receive the honor of an immaculate conception."

"Captain Dubbonet's ship was lost off the Gold Coast when the child was five. Your sister, it seems, made haste to get on with her life."

"My sister was always able to adapt when it came to men." The caustic words slipped out before Ian could stop them.

"At any rate, sir," Clyvedon rushed on, "I was given the responsibility of taking Miss Lucy away from the home of her mother's...ahem...protector in Jamaica after the unfortunate incident that led to Mrs. Dubonnet's death."

"Well, you can take the girl right back to Jamaica on the next boat," Ian said. "Surely in your travels you must have heard that I am a bachelor of notorious reputation. People from Barbados to Boston know of my tremendous appetites for gambling and drinking and...other sports of a kind that should not be mentioned in a child's hearing."

Clyvedon all but choked on his embarrassment, but Lucy's gaze sharpened, as if she understood what Ian was hinting at far better than the holy man did.

Ian felt his own cheekbones heat beneath her too-wise gaze. He grimaced. It had been a hell of a long time since anyone had summoned a blush from the rakehell Blackheath. If Tony were here, he'd have fallen into paroxysms of laughter by now.

Ian shook himself inwardly. "Mr. Clyvedon, even if I had a more acceptable way of life, it wouldn't change the way I feel about this matter. My sister and I had been estranged for years. Celestia would not have entrusted a worn pair of sIippers to me, let alone her child. Surely there must be someone else who can see to Lucy's needs. Someone better suited than I am."

Clyvedon mopped his jowls with the kerchief. "If there had been anyone else, do you think I'd have come here?"

"I see. Then perhaps I can help solve this dilemma," Ian suggested. "You could take the child to my uncle Fowler. He's a respectable sort, as far as Blackheaths go. Or my cousin Elisabeth Merriton."

The vicar tugged at his neckcloth as if it had suddenly grown too tight. "I regret to -- to inform you that your uncle broke his neck falling from a horse eight years ago."

"That was disobliging of him," Ian snorted in disgust.

"No doubt Fowler was drunk. The man's horsemanship always was execrable when he was in his cups. What about Elisabeth? Surely she would be a stable influence on the child."

"The word 'stable' is a particularly...ah, unfortunate choice, sir. You see, Miss Merriton ran off with her papa's postilion and has never been heard from again."

"Blast it, the girl always did have the most inconvenient weakness for a well-turned thigh." Desperately, Ian named every blood relation he could recall, no matter how remote or removed, while Clyvedon continued to list their unsavory fates.

At last Ian gave a pithy oath, defeated. By God, the poetic justice that had been served on the Blackheath family might even have been amusing if he had not been faced with the small, increasingly indignant person before him.

"Everyone else has died," Lucy's voice cut in, as affronted as if they had done so to irritate her on purpose. "I think it was very rude of them to leave me all alone."

"The Blackheaths always did have abominable manners," Ian muttered. He heaved a deep sigh. "Well, I suppose there is no hope for it, then, Mr. Clyvedon. She will have to go back to the vicarage with you."

"The -- the vicarage?" Clyvedon thrust his hands behind his back, his face mottled red.

"I won't go back there!" Lucy cried. "You cannot make me!"

"No!" the vicar shrilled, equally alarmed. "She -- she belongs with her own family!"

"But your home would be the perfect place to raise a child from such a tainted family -- far from worldly temptations. Of course I shall give you an earthly reward as well. I'll pay you a fortune -- "

"I would not take that girl back home if you gave me a king's ransom!"

Ian's eyes glinted with mockery. "Come now, Clyvedon. How much trouble can such a small child be?"

"Keep her and see for yourself," the vicar challenged, then turned and fled.

Ian started to hurry after him, but at that instant he glimpsed a flurry of rose-pink skirts. A small hand seemed to bump accidentally into a table, sending it flying against Ian's legs.

Never in his life had Ian been caught so unawares. But between the effects of the brandy and his own confusion over Clyvedon's reaction, he stumbled. Pain jolted up Ian's shins and slammed into his elbows as he crashed to the floor. He rolled to his side in an effort to regain his feet, but he could already hear the vicar's carriage thundering away at a pace that would have challenged Tony's matched bays.

"Son of a bitch!" Ian shouted. "Priam! Damn it, somebody stop that accursed -- "

But his words were cut off by the slam of the door. Lucy braced her back against it, her face fiercer than any Ian had seen across a dueling field. "I won't go with him!"

"You can't stay here!" Ian bellowed. "Didn't you hear a word I said?"

"Yes. You don't want me!" The words were so cold that Ian stilled, his gaze locked on the child's face. "Well, I don't want you either."

"Lucy, you must try to understand," Ian began, feeling an unaccustomed twinge of guilt. "It's not possible for me to keep you. I have very important business to attend to." He raked his hand back through his hair. "I can't have a child underfoot."

Those blue eyes were merciless, spearing him with hate and just a hint of fear. "My mama said you were the wickedest man in the whole world. She despised you, and I do too."

"At the moment I don't have a particularly high opinion of myself," Ian sagged until one shoulder rested against the settee, his hand rubbing at his throbbing head. "Oh, what the devil. It's too late to do anything about this mess now. I suppose you'll have to stay here, at least until some other arrangement can be made."

Lucy said nothing. She just stood there, rigid, the tiniest quiver in her lips.

Ian winced at a sharp pang of guilt.

"We'll make the best of it, shall we?" He made a feeble attempt to cajole her. "We'll have a holiday before I find a nice school to send you to, with lots of other girls."

"I don't like other girls. They don't do what I tell them to and don't 'preciate my dresses enough. But I guess that won't matter, because I don't have any dresses anymore. You made Mr. Clyvedon run away with my trunks."

Ian bit off a curse. "You mean that imbecile dumped you on my doorstep without so much as a nightgown? What the devil am I supposed to do? Dress you in sackcloth?"

"If you try it, I shall tear them into rags and smear soot on my cheeks. And I'll tell everyone that my wicked uncle threw away my gowns!"

"Bloody hell!" Ian clutched his throbbing head between his hands. "I'll get you some other dresses!"

"It'll be very 'spensive. I like lots and lots of lace." Her shrewdness made Ian wonder if there was more of Celestia in this daughter than he had first believed.

"Fine." He surrendered. "I'll buy you oceans of lace if that will make you happy."

The hard triumph in Lucy's eyes seemed out of place in such a little face. She pressed her rosebud lips together, a certain wistfulness clinging about her features. Ian barely caught her whisper as she turned away.

"I am never happy."

The chimes of the clock as it marked the hour of four seemed to drive white-hot nails into Ian's skull.

Exhausted, frustrated, and feeling the full effects of his encounter with the brandy decanter, he made his way through the corridors of Blackheath Hall, a single candle clenched in one hand.

The whole house was blanketed in the eerie silence of a battlefield after combat was done. The servants were probably cowering in their beds, still shaken by the uproar of the past five hours, while Tony, unforgivably amused by the night's proceedings, had tarried about the plantation house, drinking Ian's wine and laughing that unholy laugh until it had grown too late for him to leave at all.

It had been the night from hell. Ian could only be glad that it was almost daybreak.

But that would hardly be the end of this disaster.

He could scarcely expect Lucy Dubbonet to vanish the way his throbbing head and churning stomach would the next morning. He could hardly fling her out the door the way he would Tony Gray once dawn arrived.

No, come morning Lucy would still be there, demanding to be dealt with, muddying up his infernal life. Sweet Jesus, what he wouldn't give to face more mundane problems -- a simple sword fight or an exchange with pistols -- a slash to the shoulder or thigh, a pistol ball that failed to pierce a vital organ. Something he could stitch up and poultice and summarily dismiss.

But thds, still shaken by the uproar of the past five hours, while Tony, unforgivably amused by the night's proceedings, had tarried about the plantation house, drinking Ian's wine and laughing that unholy laugh until it had grown too late for him to leave at all.

It had been the night from hell. Ian could only be glad that it was almost daybreak.

But that would hardly be the end of this disaster.

He could scarcely expect Lucy Dubbonet to vanish the way his throbbing head and churning stomach would the next morning. He could hardly fling her out the door the way he would Tony Gray once dawn arrived.

No, come morning Lucy would still be there, demanding to be dealt with, muddying up his infernal life. Sweet Jesus, what he wouldn't give to face more mundane problems -- a simple sword fight or an exchange with pistols -- a slash to the shoulder or thigh, a pistol ball that failed to pierce a vital organ. Something he could stitch up and poultice and summarily dismiss.

But there would be no easy escape from this night's disaster, no simple solution to the dilemma of Miss Lucy Dubbonet.

Ian was surprised to find himself hesitating outside the doorway of the gold room, his devilishly handsome features more wary than they had been when he faced a regiment of soldiers. The child was inside, asleep in the amber-velvet splendor of the huge tester bed.

Ian stepped into the room and looked down at her -- a surprisingly tiny figure curled up on the tumbled sheets, her gold curls tossed across the pillow. The Mechlin lace collar of Ian's finest shirt was fastened beneath her chin in lieu of a night shift, the child's fingers knotted in the delicate web that tumbled down her chest.

He couldn't suppress a rueful smile as he remembered the fuss the little hellion had kicked up when faced with the indignity of wearing a man's shirt to bed. Only when Ian had remembered her penchant for lace and fished this one from beneath his valet's horrified gaze had she quieted.

She had taken the garment as if it were her due -- no gratitude, no flicker of pleasure in her eyes. Just a hard satisfaction as she went regally to bed.

"Is she sleeping?"

Tony Gray's soft question made Ian turn. Damnation, did the man have to follow him everywhere?

Ian shrugged. "She appears to be -- praise the saints. I was beginning to consider giving her lemonade spiked with rum to knock her out. What's more alarming," he added wryly, "is that my housekeeper was so desperate, I think she was ready to let me." His gaze intensified on the child. "What the devil am I supposed to do with a little girl, Tony?"

"She's a tiny thing. She can't eat much. As for clothing, I admit she has extravagant tastes, but you're used to that, what with the flock of mistresses you've kept over the years. I imagine you two will get used to each other in time."

"Surely you can't be suggesting that I keep her? Here, in the middle of this nest of treason?" Ian's fist knotted around the candle. "Even during the brief time she stays, we'll have to make adjustments. No new plans for entertaining the English except in emergencies. There is the shipment of playthings coming up for Chalmers of Boston, and some powder for that Connecticut farmer. Those business dealings will have to go forth as planned."

"We'll manage. It will be easier than you think."

Ian gave a bitter laugh. "No self-respecting Blackheath ever did anything the easy way. And from what I see of her temperament, this child is pure Blackheath. Blast her to blazes."

"She's your sister's child, Ian. You are her only living relative. She needs you." Tony's words twisted inside Ian, releasing something that felt disturbingly like fear.

"I don't have time to play nursemaid!" Ian objected, taking a step nearer the bed. "I'll have to enroll her in some sort of school as far away from Virginia as possible. Maybe that place your sister went to."

"Miss Witherton's Academy? It's a fine establishment, but it won't accept any new pupils until the next term begins three months from now."

"That's not soon enough! There must be some way I can get rid of her immediately!"

Tony's mouth curled in disgust. "I suppose you could blacken her cheeks and sell her at the next slave auction. Or you could indenture her to some tradesman in town. She could be a milliner's bond servant, stitching from dawn to dusk for her keep."

"You know that's not what I mean! I have responsibilities, Tony."

"Of course. To your cause. And that takes precedence over a lone child who has no one in the whole bloody world except you."

"Don't play at bleeding heart, Tony! It doesn't suit you."

"I can't help it. Look at her, Ian. The poor little mite. Orphaned and then dragged here all the way from Jamaica. She must have been so afraid."

"That child wouldn't be afraid if she were invited to luncheon by a school of sharks!" Ian said, with a grudging admiration for Lucy's stubborn bravado. "At any rate, even if I were sympathetic to her plight, it wouldn't change the fact that it's far too dangerous for her here."

Ian fell silent for a moment and pressed his fingertips to his throbbing temple. Suddenly he brightened. "Tony, you have numerous acquaintances who are far more respectable than my own. Surely there must be some among them who would love to have a pretty, biddable little girl to keep them company."

"Biddable?" Tony stifled a chuckle beneath his hand. "You and I may be masters of subterfuge, my friend, but even we couldn't conceal this child's willfulness for more than a heartbeat."

"What about your sainted Nora? The Mableys have six children already. No one would even notice if we slipped an extra one in amongst 'em."

"Nora and her mama are off visiting in Charleston. Nora's bosom friend is about to deliver her first babe, and Nora is most anxious to get into practice -- " Tony broke off, his cheeks reddening.

He cleared his throat gruffly. "At any rate, Ian, in spite of what you might believe, children are not interchangeable. I have it on highest authority that Nora's mama counts them up every night at suppertime." The teasing note left Tony's voice, and Ian felt hot irritation at the solemn light that suddenly shone in Gray's eyes. "Ian, for the first time since you bloodied my nose at Hargrove's Boarding School, I'm going to abandon you and force you to cope with a disaster by yourself. It might just be the making of you."

"I hate it when you play the self-righteous bastard," Ian said with quiet venom.

The corner of Tony's mouth ticked up in a grin. "Why do you think I do it so often?" he asked, then turned and left the room.

A drop of hot wax splashed onto Ian's hand from the candle he held, but he barely felt it as he edged closer to the child.

Damn Tony. Damn Celestia. Damn himself.

He wasn't a fit guardian for a little girl. Why the devil hadn't Celestia considered the child's future and made some other arrangement? No doubt his sister had been far too busy having jealous hysterics over her current lover to bother with such a trivial matter. Ian sighed. There was nothing to do about it now except muddle through somehow. Perhaps he could find some relative of the child's father to take her until Tony could get her into the academy. Or...

Damn, he couldn't think about it anymore. He'd go to sleep. Things would look better in the morning...wouldn't they?

He started to leave, then stopped, frowning as he saw that the shirt Lucy was wearing had slipped askew, leaving one of the girl's narrow shoulders exposed. She gave an almost imperceptible shiver -- all the more wrenching because Ian could tell she was attempting to stifle it. He gritted his teeth and pulled the coverlet over her bare skin.

At the brush of his fingers, Lucy whimpered and jerked away from him, as though even in sleep she tried to keep a distance from anyone who would touch her.

The gesture was all too painfully familiar. Ian closed himself against it.

He stepped back, wanting to stalk from the room. Wanting to forget about how small her hand was, curled beside her rosy cheek, how fragile the slight stirring of her breath was as it riffled her golden curls. But he stood there for several long minutes, looking down into Lucy Dubbonet's innocent face, wondering which of them was more bewildered by this sudden familial bond -- him or the little girl who lay frowning in sleepy defiance into the lace of his shirt.

Copyright © 1994 by Kim Ostrom Bush


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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 14, 1999
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I have read nearly all of Kimberly Cates books and loved every one - and this is no exception!! The story is set in 1772 Virginia when the colonials were beginning their struggle for independence from Britian and spying and raiding was the order of the day. Added to this historical backdrop is the wonderful love story of Ian and Emily. The sorrow that these 2 have known in their past and the love that they find in each other is remarkable and inspiring. I read alot of romances and am very rarely moved to tears, but this one brought them to my eyes more than once. The character of Lucy, the wild and willful child in need of love brings everything together. I truly loved this book and can't wait to read Lucy's story in "The Raider's Daughter" and also Ms.Cates new book, "Lily Fair", If you like great historical romance - you'll fall in love with this book!!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 16, 2003
Format: Mass Market Paperback
A unique story, as outlined above, with well written and likeable characters. "Pendragon" is tormented although I think the reason is a bit of a stretch. He and his wonderful (hope there's a sequel for him) Tony are dedicated to the patriot cause while unbeknown to them, Emily is spying for the english. It's a web you think they can't get out of. Add little Miss Lucy. She is 8 going on 80 and precocious is too mild a word to describe her. Her character is perhaps the mot heart wrenching in the book. She certainly pushes adults to the end of their rope and beyond which is very amusing.Bringing this child back from her life of torment is perhaps better than the original plot. It's totally a great book. I enjoyed it and hope u will too.
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