A woman is captive to her own desire in this sizzling Regency romance from the USA Today–bestselling author of Highland Fire.
Eleven years ago, Cam Colburne, Duke of Dyson, witnessed the unspeakable horrors of mob hysteria in a French prison as he watched his family condemned to death by the actions of an innocent young girl, the daughter of a French diplomat. Now, a decade later, Cam’s moment of retribution has come. Lovely Gabrielle de Brienne is now his prisoner, held for ransom at Cornwall castle.
The product of a most unconventional education, Gabrielle is now more hoyden than lady. Her powerful captor doesn’t frighten her with his threats. But, his commanding kiss sends shivers of desire through her body. The tenderness beneath his pride and arrogance, however, warns her that she is far too vulnerable. In the dark of night, she longs to understand the secret her enigmatic captor hides behind his mask of indifference. But by day, she plots her escape, fearing her heart and her will to resist him will soon be lost forever.
“A joy to read!” —RT Book Reviews
“I consider Elizabeth Thornton a major find.” —Mary Balogh, New York Times–bestselling author
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1803, Eleven Years Later
Lord Lansing, a young man of thirty summers or so, lolled comfortably in an oversized, stuffed armchair in the Duke of Dyson's bedchamber in his commodious house in Hanover Square. He was reflecting, rather gloomily, on Europe's future now that Napoleon Bonaparte had taken the reins of France's destiny into his hands.
"You'll find London rather thin of company, Cam," observed Lansing, toying absently with a lock of his blond hair.
Cam Colburne, the duke, ducked his dark head below the surface of his bath water and came up spluttering. "Shall I?" He shook his head vigorously, sending droplets of water flying. "Simon, be a good fellow and fetch me that towel."
From a rack in front of the blazing fire, Lord Lansing obediently plucked a warm towel and threw it at his friend's head.
Catching it with one hand as he emerged naked from the copper tub in which he had been bathing, Cam proceeded to dry himself briskly.
Some minutes were to pass before Lansing took up where he had left off. "It's because of the peace treaty, you see."
"What's because of the peace treaty?" asked Cam. He had donned clean linen and was buttoning his white satin breeches.
"That London is thin of company," explained Lansing. To his friend's questioning look he answered, "Every man and his dog, it seems, is off to Paris to catch a glimpse of that Bonaparte fellow."
"That will soon change. In another month or so we shall be at war again."
Lansing snorted. "That's if Mr. Pitt can persuade the opposition to toe the line."
"Mr. Pitt is a very persuasive fellow," observed Cam mildly. "Where are my shoes? Oh, there they are." Over white silk stockings, Cam slipped on a pair of black patent pumps with silver buckles. He noticed a fleck of something on his right toe and swore softly.
"You don't much care for the leader of the opposition, do you, Cam?"
"Mr. Fox? I don't care for him at all. He's a true, dyed-in-the-wool Whig, for God's sake. They are the most dangerous kind. Where the devil is my neckcloth?"
"On the back of the chair, where you left it. More to the point, where the devil is your valet?"
"What? Oh, he remains at Dunraeden," answered Cam, referring to his seat in Cornwall, an isolated, impregnable fortress jutting into the English Channel.
"How long have you been on the road?"
"Three days. My thanks for the message, Simon. I wouldn't miss this meeting for the world."
"It was Mr. Pitt who particularly asked that you be present. He seems to think that if anyone can persuade Fox to temper his oratory in the House, that person is you."
"Does he?" Cam deftly tied his pristine white neckcloth with a skill that arrested the attention of his companion. "Did he say why?"
Coming to himself, Lansing responded, "He seems to think that you have made a study of Mr. Fox's worldview and will know what tack to take if we get into difficulties."
"Fox is an idealist and a liberal," said Cam. "That's all we need to know." Throwing his friend an imploring look he asked, "Would you mind acting the gentleman's gentleman, Simon?"
Lansing helped ease his friend into a tight-fitting, dark blue evening coat with silver buttons. "There! Brummel himself could not find fault with you in this getup." He stepped back to admire the cut of his friend's coat. "Who's your tailor?"
"Weston of Old Bond Street. Do you know him?"
"Good God, Cam! That's Brummel's tailor!"
"Is it?" Cam grimaced at his reflection in the long cheval mirror, then turned to face his friend. "Well? Do I pass muster, or does my valet have the right of it when he tells me that I'm as helpless as a babe without his ministrations?"
"You'll do," retorted Lansing. He was thinking, without envy, that his friend cut a glamorous figure. In addition to the title and fortune, the Duke of Dyson possessed uncommon good looks and the physique of an athlete. Moreover, he had about him a certain air, a solitude, that at one and the same time attracted overtures of friendship and repelled a presumptuous intimacy. Lansing counted himself the most fortunate of fellows that he was one of Cam's few intimates.
"Where do you Cornishmen come by those extraordinary blue eyes?" he asked.
"From our parents," answered Cam dryly, and carefully inserted a diamond pin in the knot of his neckcloth.
"What's the occasion for the formal wear?" asked Lansing.
"Louise. She's giving a reception for some of her compatriots. I'm going on there later, after we meet with Mr. Pitt and Mr. Fox. You're invited, if you care to attend."
"My French isn't up to it," offered Lansing hopefully.
"Nonsense. These French immigrés will be eager to practice their English on you. Besides, since we shall be in France by the end of the week, you yourself need the practice."
"How is Louise?"
Cam's hands momentarily stilled as he adjusted the lace on his cuffs. He looked a question at his friend. "Fine, as far as I know. Isn't she?"
Lansing's look was incredulous. "Cam, don't you know? Don't you care? The woman is your mistress, for God's sake, and has been these two years. How can you go off and leave her unattended for months on end? She's a beautiful, desirable creature. You're asking for trouble."
Cam's eyebrows rose. "What? Has she found another protector?"
"Not to my knowledge. That's not the point." Lansing shook his head at the note of indifference he detected in his friend's voice. He opened his mouth to remonstrate, then thought better of it. "It doesn't signify. I'm sorry I mentioned it."
"No, no! Truly! I want to hear what you have to say."
"I don't know what I want to say. Yes I do. I've been making a study of your worldview, Cam, and ...," Lansing hesitated.
"And?" encouraged Cam softly.
Shrugging helplessly, Lansing said, "Sometimes I wonder if you care for anything but your causes."
"So. We're not really talking about Louise, are we? Oh don't dissemble on my account. If you don't wish to come to France with me, just say so."
"You know it's not that. It's ... well ... don't fly off the handle, but the whole idea seems so farfetched."
When Cam had first proposed the daring scheme of holding one of Bonaparte's ministers to ransom for vital military information, Lansing had readily fallen in with his plans. That Mr. Pitt, the leader of their party, must not be taken into their confidence, did not sit well with Lansing. In some things, the Duke of Dyson was a law unto himself. Lord Lansing had occasion to be grateful for his friend's unorthodox methods. It was only as Cam revealed the full scope of his design that Lansing began to have second thoughts.
Cam filled two crystal glasses from a decanter of brandy and gave one into Lansing's hand. Seating himself in an adjacent chair, he said, "You know Mr. Pitt's mind. In spite of the threat Mr. Fox poses, by May the war with France will be resumed. That's only weeks away. Before the end of the year England may expect Napoleon Bonaparte to launch an armada for our invasion and subjugation. If we can be one step ahead of the French, it's worth any risk."
"I suppose, but ..."
"Must we involve the girl? She's so young."
"Gabrielle de Brienne is eighteen years old. Not so young by my reckoning."
Something flashed in Cam's eyes, so fleetingly that Lansing wondered if he had imagined it. He shook his head. "This Mascaron fellow, her grandfather ..."
"The assistant minister of the Marine."
"Can't we find some other way to get the information from him? To abduct his granddaughter and hold her to ransom seems ...ungentlemanly, if you want my opinion."
Cam made a harsh, derisory sound and set down his glass sharply. "Ungentlemanly?" he demanded. "Good God, man! This is war! Mascaron is in a privileged position! He can give us the disposition of the French fleet! Advise us where and when Bonaparte means to attack!" Moderating his tone, he went on, "In any event, it's too late to turn back. Everything is set. If you wish to withdraw, however, you may do so with my goodwill."
Lansing's eyes fell before Cam's cool stare. He cleared his throat. "Do you really suppose that I shall not support you in this if your mind is set on it? You should know me better, Cam."
"I know that you are a very loyal fellow to your friends."
"My family owes you a debt that can never be repaid. When I think how you risked your political career to save the skin of that hotheaded brother of mine ..."
Cam waved Lansing to silence. "That's old history, Simon, and best forgotten." He offered the decanter and, as he topped up both glasses, he asked, "How is Justin these days? You haven't mentioned him in an age."
Lansing grinned. "He's serving with the British army in an outpost called Fort York."
"In Upper Canada?" Lansing nodded, and Cam chuckled. That should keep the young scapegrace out of hot water."
"I'm counting on it," averred Lansing.
Cam's expression turned grave. "Canada isn't Ireland, Simon. Put your mind at rest. I am persuaded that Justin's brush with those subversive elements is over."
"Yes. He seems to have learned a salutary lesson, thank God!" After an interval, he said carefully, "Cam, about the girl?"
"Gabrielle? What about her?"
"I give you fair warning. We're on our own in this. Pitt would never sanction the girl's abduction, and if Mr. Fox ever got wind of it, he would take great delight in ruining us both!"
"Ruin me, you mean!" said Cam, grinning. He rose and indicated that it was time to go.
"Yes. I think he cares for you as little as you care for him."
"You worry too much, Simon. Since the girl will be hidden away at Dunraeden, it's not likely that anyone will get wind of it. But even supposing they do, I have a perfectly credible explanation for her presence. Besides, I have the advantage of Mr. Fox. I know how his mind works."
Cam led the way down the great cantilevered staircase. As they reached the front entrance a porter appeared with each man's hat and cane. Neither wore a topcoat, for the temperature was comfortable on that evening in late April.
"Then that gives you the advantage of almost everyone," said Lansing consideringly.
Cam waved over a hackney that was stationed in the square. Having given the driver directions to Mr. Pitt's rooms in Baker Street, he climbed in behind Lansing.
The coach swayed into motion, jolting its passengers as it rolled over the cobbled streets of Mayfair. In a matter of minutes, Mayfair was left behind as the hackney crossed the Oxford Road and entered the area known as Marylebone.
"You were saying?" asked Cam politely. His mind seemed to be miles away.
Lansing stifled a sigh. He had been on the point of saying that Cam had the advantage of almost everyone by virtue of the fact that no one could fathom the intricate workings of his mind. He thought better of it and offered instead some indifferent commonplace that was accepted at face value, and on the short drive to Baker Street no more contentious subjects were raised.
Five gentlemen were sitting at their ease around the table in Mr. Pitt's very elegantly appointed dining room in his rooms in Baker Street. A fine dinner had been consumed. In normal circumstances, they might have shared a dinner at any one of the gentlemen's clubs in St. James, though to be sure, eyebrows would have been raised and tongues would immediately begin to wag at the unprecedented spectacle of those long-standing political enemies, Charles Fox and William Pitt, breaking bread together at the same table. Closeted behind the closed doors, this motley group of Whigs and Tories, men of enviable influence and stature, would have occasioned more than a little tongue-wagging. The suspicions of the whole world would have been roused against them, and rightly so.
It was Mr. William Pitt who had engineered the dinner. Though he had resigned from office only the year before as a protest against his sovereign's position on the Irish question, it was he, behind the scenes and with the same coterie of brilliant young men, two of whom, Cam and Lansing, were present that evening, who still led the Tories and steered England's course. The man who had stepped into his shoes as prime minister was a figurehead, and everyone at that table knew it.
Across the table from Mr. Pitt sat Charles James Fox, the leader of the opposition, in his mid-fifties and the oldest gentleman present. Fox's very good friend and colleague, Richard Sheridan, the playwright, occupied the chair on his right.
Fox adjusted his huge bulk in the less than capacious Sheraton shield-back chair, and calmly surveyed his companions. In an unguarded moment he thought, without conceit, that should some catastrophic event at that very moment blow Mr. Pitt's dining room and its occupants to kingdom come, it would be a sad day for England. He chanced to capture the Duke of Dyson's stare, and instantly he amended his opinion. No. It would be no sad thing for England, thought Fox, if Mr. Pitt's dining room blew up, but after he and Sheridan had effected an exit.
To cover the unholy smile that spread across his face, Fox raised his white linen table napkin to his lips. He settled himself to wait, with as much patience as he could contrive, until Mr. Pitt decided to reveal what profit there might be in this informal assembly of Whigs and Tories, who normally sat on opposite sides of the House, opposing each other adamantly and eloquently on almost every political issue.
His eyes brushed those of His Grace, and his mellow mood dissipated somewhat. Camille Colburne had proved to be one of Fox's bitterest enemies. Though never accepting any office from Mr. Pitt, he was there in the background, using his influence and well-articulated philosophy to shape Tory policies to his own designs. He was more than a brilliant orator. Every man at that table could claim that distinction. But Dyson was a thinker. His logic was faultless. His rhetoric in the House of Lords was always persuasive. He was indispensable to Pitt and a thorn in the flesh to Fox. Too many young Whigs, who would not give Pitt the time of day, had broken ranks because of this young man's clever tongue. Perhaps it was to be expected.
The fifth duke of Dyson attracted a wide following among both sexes. Young fribbles were known to copy his modes and manners to a ridiculous degree, and ton hostesses positively fell over themselves to ensure that the duke accepted an invitation to their parties. Not that Dyson cultivated his popularity. Far from it. There was a coolness there to which only a favoured few were not subjected.
Not unnaturally, few women could resist such appeal. But Dyson was no womanizer. If he had any vices, he kept them to himself. The man was an enigma. And Mr. Fox detested enigmas in politics. They were unpredictable, and therefore not to be trusted.
But his dislike of the duke went deeper. For a young man, the duke lacked passion. He was too sanguine, too much in command of himself. Those Cornishman's blue eyes never betrayed what was going on behind their hooded expression. And Fox had never been so glad as the day when Lansing had persuaded the duke to go off with him to Ireland when their friend, the Viscount Castlereagh, had taken up his appointment as chief secretary. Fox had never cared much for Castlereagh either.
As Mr. Pitt began to speak, Fox's deceptively lazy eyes swept over the Tory leader's thin, ascetic figure. He heard him out without interruption, the straight line of his bushy black eyebrows the only indication that he was not gratified by what he heard.
When Mr. Pitt came to the end of his recital, Fox intoned, dangerously quiet, "You expect Whig support if England declares war on France? I presume, Mr. Pitt, you have some persuasive arguments for that rather forlorn hope?"
Mr. Pitt, a trifle nervously, started over, beginning with the advice that England's interests should supersede every other consideration, even loyalty to party.
Mr. Fox's lips tightened a little at this presumptuous and unwitting impertinence, but he let it pass. Many men had mistaken their man by judging him on his private life. He sipped his port slowly, inwardly seething as he came under a hail of advice from a man whose views he disdained. As if he needed to be told that his party would follow his lead if England were to declare war on France. As if he did not know that should the Treaty of Amiens be broken, the government might easily fall and the country be plunged into anarchy without his support. He scorned Pitt's facile reasoning, but he heard him out in silence, observing with some surprise that the duke had nothing to say for himself.
There was a pause.
Turning to Sheridan, who gave every evidence of being sunk in his cups, Fox demanded, "Well, Sherry? What should I say to them?"
"Tell them to go to the devil!" said Sheridan without opening his eyes.
"You heard my friend," said Fox, scraping back his chair and rising. "Go to the devil or hold fast to the treaty. Break it, and I shall raise hell in the House."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Scarlet Angel"
Copyright © 1990 Mary George.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
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