|juliaross.net The Wicked Lover|
The Wicked Lover
(Originally published as a Berkley Trade paperback ISBN 0-425-19406-X)
Reissued in Berkley mass market edition ISBN 0-425-19996-7)
Romantic Times "Top Pick"
A powerful historical romance
|E-book coming!||Lace and rapiers in dangerous Georgian London|
Romantic Times: "TOP PICK" Four 1/2 stars
"Master storyteller Ross delivers a spellbinding double dose of intrigue and passion in this ... fast-paced, sensual story brimming over with unforgettable moments and memorable characters. Exquisitely romantic, utterly captivating."
The Oakland Press: "A Definite Keeper - Five Hearts!"
"An exceptional writer who creates rich, compelling characters in tales of intrigue. When (Ross) adds passion to the mix, so much the better for fans... (Dove) is one of the most truly heroic men in romance... fascinating, appealing and unforgettable."
The Old Book Barn Gazette:
"A great story with lots of little twists and turns... A recommended read."
A Romance Review: Highest rating - Five Roses!
"A stunning tale of intrigue and passion (with) some of the most beautiful and erotic imagery I have read in a long time... I feel very strongly about this book, and hope that some of you will not be shy about the trade price ... the rewards are well worth it."
Romance Reviews Today:
"A sensual, sophisticated tale, mysterious, elegant, and lusty... The pages heat up with very sensuous passages, passionate without a taint of crudity... For a tantalizing novel rich in atmosphere, I highly recommend THE WICKED LOVER."
"(Two) dazzling people are immersed in mystery and deceit (creating) an exciting story that sizzles with unbridled sensual desire. Lots of amusing twists and turns, a real keeper."
Plot SummaryA Disastrous Day
Handsome as the devil and just as dangerous, he moves like a shadow through the back streets of Georgian London. Yet Robert Sinclair Dovenby, commonly know as the Dove, is also a star in the drawing rooms of high society.
Yet his carefully balanced world falls apart when Dove returns home to find a bonfire in the street in front of his townhouse, and a stranger tied up in his bedroom. The bonfire has devastating enough consequences for Dove, but the stranger threatens to challenge his entire existence.
A Dangerous Lady
Lovely, ruthless by necessity, Sylvie, Countess of Montevrain, has survived only by learning men's secrets and breaking their hearts. This time she breaks into her quarry's life disguised as a stripling named George White, determined to trick Dove into hiring her as his secretary.
What Dove doesn't know is that Sylvie has already been hired by his enemies to uncover his mysteries, so that she may send him to the scaffold.
Sylvie soon finds herself in a man's world: sleigh races under a winter moon; the raucous warmth of coffeehouses. Yet her true task awaits: to entice Dove into her woman's world of sensuality and eroticism, then deliver him into the hands of his enemies. She will go to any lengths, risking mind, souland every practiced asset of her limber bodyto destroy him. How can she know that Dove is playing a cat-and-mouse game of his own? How can either of them know that when the masks are stripped away, their encounter is destined to shatter their souls?
Robert Sinclair Dovenby, known throughout Georgian London as the Dove, is also reputed to be very dangerous. An unfortunate day, then, when Dove returns home to find his mistress, the lovely and socially powerful Lady Grenham, burning his clothes in the street in front of his townhouse. Even worse when Dove discovers that the reason for her rage is waiting for him inside:
He had a damned good idea what he would find in his bedroom. If it was the right lady, she might get exactly what shed come for.
Dove lifted the latch and opened the door.
He stopped dead.
A girl sat on a chair near the window. She did not look like a strumpet. Beneath a French straw hat, her angular face was flushed, apprehensive, vaguely pretty only because she was young. Yet she seemed more annoyed than frightened. As he entered she struggled against what appeared to be her own hat ribbons, which had been used to efficiently truss her to the chair.
The girls eyes narrowed, assessing him, before her glance slid away to the bed.
A young man stood spread-eagled at the foot of Doves four-poster, arms stretched uncomfortably. Each wrist had been securely tied to the bedposts with the cords from the hangings.
Long-limbed, neatly made, the young man stared defiantly at Dove. His wig boasted white curls and a queue. The shoulders bunched on an ill-fitting blue coat. The bed canopy cast his angry, fine-boned face into shadow, the skin chalk-white, startling in contrast to vehement lapis lazuli eyes, ringed with fatigue as if bruised.
Potential explanations splintered into myriad possibilitiesnone of them without danger, several of them rich with delight. Closing the door behind him, Dove leaned back against the panels and folded his arms. His premonition of peril seemed absurd, yet the scent of it lingered, along with the faint smell of smoke.
"I enjoy uninvited female company," he said, "as the lion enjoys the gazelle. The presence of a manservant, trussed like a hare for jugging, seems sadly superfluous."
The girls freckled nose turned pink.
"My mistress is not at fault, sir." The young mans voice was light, cultured, hard to pin down. "Shes already afraid. If you would be pleased to untie her?"
"Why? She does not look afraid."
"We did not intend" the young man began.
"Whether it was intentional or not," Dove interrupted, "the gazelle is at a distinct disadvantage, if she voluntarily enters the lions den."
The French hat dipped over the girls powdered hair. Green ribbons trailed across fingers marked here and there with pinpricks. Neither a strumpet nor a lady. He nevertheless gave her a small bow.
"We have not been introduced, maam. Robert Sinclair Dovenby, your servant. The world sometimes calls me the Dove."
"And your friends?" The manservant jerked angrily against his bonds. "What do they call you? Sinclairor just Sin? An appropriate enough name for a man of your reputation."
Dove smiled at him. He was also young, but not too young: a hint of wary experience marked the high cheekbones and stubborn chin, and lurked in the pout of the full bottom lip. An odd grace traced the long legs and slender arms, half hidden by the coarse blue jacket. Interesting! He wondered fleetingly how wellor ifthis intruder could handle a sword.
"Your mistress was brought here by tales of my notoriety?"
The young mans bravado was almost tangible.
"She was brought here on a whim, sir. It means nothing."
"Brought here? May I ask your mistresss name and business, sir? I admit Im agog with curiosity. Though Im sure her company promises infinite delights, I did have other plans for this evening."
The young man looked away at the ceiling. "Of course. You are busy. My mistresss name is Mademoiselle Berthe Dubois. We arrived recentlyand with some difficultyfrom France. She only came to search to fetch something."
Search? The word numbed like a shower of ice water.
"She came to fetch something? From a complete stranger? Pray, what did Miss Dubois hope to find in my bedroom? Her own stray wits, perhaps?"
The stubborn chin set in defiance. "Only an item of your clothing. Anything would have sufficed. It was quite randoma wager."
"Ah!" Dove walked around the room, closing empty drawers. "A wager."
"A chance thing," the young man said. "We met a party of ladies"
Dove stopped by the girls chair and smiled down at her. "How very, very naughty of you, Berthe Dubois. A chance meeting, where my undoubted infamy was discussed? You wagered that you could walk into my bedroom, take an article of my clothing, bring it back to the other ladies, and winone hundred guineas, perhaps?"
"Two hundred," the young man said.
Dove laughed. "Then how tragic that I have no clothing left, except what remains on my person. Though Im charmed by the brilliance of her revenge, Lady Grenham has burned my entire wardrobe. Unless I disrobe further, your mistress cannot win her bet."
"You would not undress in front of a lady," Berthe Dubois said in French. It was not the accent of Versailles.
"Not unless invited." Dove took a knife from his boot and sliced one green ribbon. The girl pulled a hand free and with a small sound rubbed her wrist over her mouth. "Yet I am disappointed," he added in her own tongue, "that your manservant did not put up a better defense and so allowed another lady to bind you to a chair."
"I am unarmed." The young man also spoke French, slipping easily from one language to the other. "Lady Grenham had a pistol. When she found us here, she became rather discomposed."
"I can imagine. Rifling through a mans shirts is such an unfortunately intimate task to perform in front of his mistress. So you introduced yourselves?"
"She introduced herself, Lady Margaret, Countess of Grenham." The young man broke off and took a deep breath, then began again in English. "I didnt think it politic to determine whether her pistol was loaded"
"I assure you that it was. So with the help of her firearm, Lady Grenham forced Miss Dubois to help truss you to my bedposts. Then, also at pistol point, she tied your mistress to that convenient chair?"
"What could we do, when faced with a gun?" Berthe said, still in French. "Then she tore into your dressers"
"Which you and your manservant had already conveniently opened."
"and threw everything from the window like a madwoman. We couldnt stop her," the French girl added helpfully.
Not sure if he could trust himself to keep his mirth hidden, Dove walked to the window, tossing the knife in one hand.
"But why the devil couldnt my servants stop either of you? Are my footmen helpless clay in the hands of a woman? Is my house open to every stray female who presents herself at the door, whether trailing her manservant or not?"
"Its not your servants fault," the young man said. "I used a ruse to lock the footmen into the pantry."
"Then I shall have to get an entire new staff, it seems." Dove looked down at the smoldering ashes in the street. Meg had left. The crowd was drifting away. "And, thanks to you, a new lover."
"No harm was meant, sir," the young man said with steely politeness. "Youll be pleased to release us, Im sure. You are a gentleman?"
"But what if Im not a very nice gentleman?" Dove closed the window, shutting out the oncoming night. "Perhaps I am very nasty indeed to young ladies who force their way into my bedroom?"
Their eyes watched him as he strolled about the room. He caressed random objects: his washstand, his brushes, the candlesticks, a stack of leather-bound books abandoned on a table: Defoe, Milton, Molière, Henry Fielding.
"After all, no one consulted me, did they?" He picked up a volume and smoothed his thumb down the spine. Nothing seemed to have been touched except his clothespresses. "By the requirements of your wager, without my agreement I was cast as the angel of benevolence, unwittingly donating clothing to strangers." Dove set down the book: Tom Jonesanother rogue who hadnt known his true parents. "Whatever your motives, you have just cost me my wardrobe, as well as a delightfully experienced mistress. They will both be very expensive to replace."
"No doubt you can win sufficient at the tables," the young man said.
"Of the sins of a rake, I prefer wine and women, which is unfortunate for Mademoiselle Dubois. What if my pleasure is a little too inventive for her tastes? Do you really think that she can match the naughty habits of an experienced lady like Meg Grenham?" Dove picked up a silver-and-ivory box from a side table and took a pinch of snuff, the gesture as deliberately insulting as he could make it. "Though you are safe, of course, being a man."
A blush ran like a flame across the youths peerless bones. "Are you foxed, sir?"
"To ride that half-broken stallion in town, I must have been. However, the sight of Lady Grenhams bonfire and the resulting calculation of the loss to my purse sobered me instantly. I am now in complete possession of my wits. Fortunately for Mademoiselle Dubois, I rather wish to be alone with them. I shall call a sedan chair to take your mistress wherever she would like to go."
"Youll let us leave?"
Dove closed the snuffbox with a snap, sliced the remaining ribbon with his knife and helped the French girl stand. "I shall let you leave, maam. Your man, I think, must stay and answer a few questions."
"I wont leave without him," Berthe Dubois said stoutly.
"Because you are his faithful servant, are you not?" Dove asked gently. "His cook, perhaps?"
The Frenchwomans resolve faltered. Her gaze slid again to the bed.
"Oh, devil take it," the young man said. "Yes, shes my servant. Go back to our lodgings, Berthe."
"Monsieur Dovenby is owed his explanation, thats all. After which, as he has said, he prefers to be alone. I shall be quite safe."
"You have your orders from your master, Miss Dubois," Dove said. "Besides, you have no other choice. If you dont go willingly, I shall be forced to lay hands on your person, which I believe you would hold in some distaste."
He laid the cut ribbons into her pinpricked hands. Without thinking, she folded them carefully. Not a cook, then, a maid. A ladys maid.
Dove rang the bell. One of his footmen, sheepish still, appeared immediately. With a few quick instructions, Dove saw the French girl escorted from the room.
Poor Berthe Dubois! She was brave and stalwart enough, though not quite as stalwart as her companion, still tied spread-eagled at the foot of his bed. The Frenchwoman would certainly be carried anywhere she wished to go, but the ride would take the best part of the evening. Dove did not want his interview with Megs remaining captive to be disturbed by anything.
He studied the long neck and high cheekbones, the pale face marked by those extraordinary blue eyes. The curved line of hip and waist, revealed where the jacket had fallen open. Was she an actress, hired by a rival as part of a deliberate plan to rob him of Meg and his security in society? Or was she here to discover his far more dangerous secrets? Either way he thought he might enjoy finding out.
She met his gaze, then glanced down. Small white teeth scraped over her ripe bottom lip. Erotic images fired like grapeshot.
For as Robert Dovenby had recognized on his second glance, the individual tied to his bedposts was not only young and beautiful, but a woman.