Excerpt From No Place For a Lady

London, England, February 1807

“’Ey, Fanny! ’Ow bout a diddle wi’ me?”  

Fantine Delarive winked as she swiveled her hips past a group of leering men, her smile friendly as she focused on the biggest of them all. “Ye ain’t got enough t’ diddle wi’, Tommy boy. Talk t’ me when ye grow a mite more.”

She tweaked his cheek as she served him his ale. Then she passed on through the dingy pub, trading insults and affectionate pats with the customers.

They all knew her here, recognized her face, called her Fanny, but not a one knew the truth. They would never guess she had played maid to a princess or caught a French spy. They would never believe she could speak Spanish or cook a goose fit for the king. Nor would they credit that she planned to do such things again and again until she was too old to blow a kiss at an aged lord.

They would never believe what she had done, and she could never tell. So she teased the clientele like a two-bit tart, playing her role with consummate skill, because deep inside she did not truly credit it herself.

 “Fanny!” called the keep, his gravelly voice carrying easily over the din. “’E wants ye. Tomorrow. Tea.”

Fantine hitched her hip up to the edge of a bar stool, allowing a near-blind old man to feel the curve of her knee, but no more. “Tomorrow, tea,” she echoed. “Guess I better put on me fancy togs. Not that I keep ’em on fer long!”

Then she laughed as loudly as the rest at her crude joke.

***

“Good morning, my lord. I trust you slept well.”

Marcus Kane, Lord Chadwick, looked up, a single bite of egg poised precisely on his silver spoon. “Whom would you trust with such information, Bentley?” he asked dryly.

“Not even my sainted mother,” the dough-faced man replied with a bland expression.

“Just so long as it is not my sainted mother,” Marcus responded. “I trust that you have seen Paolina safely transferred from my bed to her own.”

“Safely settled in, my lord.”

A dozen possible responses came to mind, but Marcus washed them down with a sip of tea. His secretary would not understand a one of them, and so he did not waste his breath. Instead, he opened the morning paper knowing he could easily divide his attention between the news and Bentley’s itemized list of the coming day.

He was wrong.

“I have canceled your appointment for tea with your sister, citing urgent matters with the Scottish estate.”

Marcus’s eye caught on a column detailing William Wilberforce’s latest speech to the House of Commons, but at his secretary’s news, he lifted his gaze.

“Do I have urgent matters at the Scottish estate?”

“No, my lord. But you do have an invitation to Lord Penworthy’s home. The tone appeared somewhat urgent.”

Marcus arched his eyebrows. He had not spoken with Penworthy since Geoffrey’s funeral nearly three years ago. They had, of course, corresponded over political matters and seen one another in the House of Lords, but this was something else entirely. To be invited to his former mentor’s house, and so abruptly, indicated something of supreme import.

Marcus set his napkin aside and rose from his chair.

“Thank you, Bentley. I now recall why I pay you so exorbitantly.”

***

Marcus barely felt the carriage slow as it pulled up before

Lord Penworthy’s home. Though not in exclusive Grosvenor Square, Penworthy’s home was stately enough for a fellow Member of Parliament (MP) and secluded enough to accommodate the man’s more secretive activities on behalf of the Crown.

In short, Marcus liked it and the owner, and therefore was in a congenial frame of mind as he alighted from his carriage. The mood would not last. He knew that. Marcus was in the dubious position of having to refuse whatever task his friend would no doubt request of him. But the decision was already made. It was time for Marcus to assume his responsibilities as eldest son, and that included an end to his favorite pastime.

Especially now that there was no other son to take his place should he make another costly mistake. He had not made many errors in his short time as a British spy, but the one had been enough. And Geoffrey had died because of it.

Marcus lifted the knocker, pushing it down with the force of a hammer, slamming his memories with the motion. Time heals all wounds, he reminded himself. Then he smiled bitterly.

Some wounds never fully healed.

The door opened swiftly, held by a man who could have been Bentley’s twin except that his voice was cavernous, as befitted a butler.

“Good afternoon, my lord. His lordship is expecting you in the library.”

Marcus crossed the threshold and handed over his hat and coat without demur, trying to shed the February cold as easily. He moved automatically down the hall, not bothering to wait for a footman to precede him. Then he realized no one was about. Even the butler had disappeared. In fact, the whole atmosphere of the house was hushed and secretive.

What Penworthy wanted must be serious indeed.

Marcus sighed, already steeling himself to refuse. Skulking in doorways, waiting through the night in some freezing ditch, all these things were over for him now, and he did not yet know whether to regret it or rejoice.

He knocked softly on the library door.

“Come in.”

Respecting the mood of the house, Marcus entered without sound, closing the door carefully behind him. He could not see deeply into the room, but he smiled at the soothing scent of leather books and a fire built with pine.

“Chadwick, old boy! Glad you could come.”

Marcus navigated past two wingback chairs before he greeted his old friend. “I would not have missed it for the world,” he said easily.

Then he stopped and tried not to stare. Good Lord, what had happened to the man? Rather than the sturdy if aging gentleman of barely two months ago, Penworthy looked more like a monk bent with the weight of time. As he rose from behind his desk, his white hair waved wildly and his eyes were red with fatigue. Though his steps were quick and steady, the hand he extended was slightly curled and arthritic, his body thin and aged.

Naturally, Marcus could not ask what had occurred, nor even reveal his startled thoughts. So he merely smiled, forcing himself to bring out some pleasantry. “Fine day, is it not?”

Penworthy grinned. “What? No polite lie about how well I look?”

Rather than answer directly, Marcus gestured toward the desk and the stacks of paper scattered about. “Do the affairs of state weigh heavily upon you?”

“Not that lot,” responded Penworthy with a jerk of his head. “I am merely growing old and have developed a cough that will not end. Brandy?”

“Certainly. Pray, allow me.” Marcus stepped to the sideboard, pouring with practiced ease. He had forgotten that Penworthy was nearing sixty. The thought that Marcus might lose his longtime friend to a cough disturbed him greatly. But his morbid thoughts were cut short by Penworthy.

“What concerns me is a far more serious matter.”

Marcus allowed his expression to relax, focusing his attention on the coming information. Finally, he would know what all this secrecy was about.

“I am, of course, at your dispo—”

Suddenly, the library doors burst open with an explosion of air that extinguished the desk candles, splattering hot wax across any number of state papers. Then a high voice cut into the room’s serene atmosphere.

“’Ello, luv. Sorry I’m late.”

To his shock, a diminutive streetwalker strutted in, her dress a blazing swirl of colors, her bodice cut low enough to reveal tantalizing glimpses of her curves. In her hands, she carried the tea tray, and Marcus wondered that she could keep the items on the silver with her hips swaying so very much.

“Fantine!” Penworthy said the single word with a mixture of dismay and amusement that was not lost on the young whore.

“Aye, ducks,” she said, straightening from where she set down the tray. “’Ey now! Wot’s this?” she cried as she lifted the brandy snifter from Penworthy’s hand. “This Frenchie stuff will rot yer innards, it will!” Then, before the man could object, she neatly emptied the glass down her own white throat. “Aye,” she said huskily as she smacked her lips. “Rot yer innards, it will. Now come ’ave some tea like a good nob.”

Penworthy sighed, slanting an expression at Marcus that was half apology, half surrender. “Marcus, may I present to you, Fantine Delarive. Fantine, this is Marcus Kane, Lord Chadwick.”

“Auw!” she cried, her accent thick enough to crack glass. “Wot a pleasure, t’ be sure.” Then she leaned forward, her hand extended as her ragged dress slipped lower with her every breath. “But me name’s Fanny.”

Centuries of breeding warred within Marcus. Politeness demanded that he rise and kiss her hand like a gentleman, and yet those very rules of behavior required that he ignore invitations from a backstreet tart.

In the end, respect for his friend won out. He rose, albeit stiffly, and took her hand. “Fanny.”

She clucked appreciatively, her hand still extended, clearly expecting him to kiss it. He waited, knowing what she wanted, but finding the act difficult to perform. She smelled almost overpoweringly of stale beer, and her hand, though small and perhaps pleasingly formed, was dirty, the nails cracked and blunt.

“Come on, luv. I won’t bite, less’n ye pay,” she cooed.

“Fantine!” cried Penworthy, clearly exasperated. “Cease torturing the man.” He pushed between them, breaking their contact, neatly pushing the whore into a seat before the fire. She collapsed expertly, her legs extended before her, giving Marcus a full view of their delightful shape.

Really, he thought as he settled into the other chair, he could almost understand Penworthy’s attraction to the woman. Despite the tattered clothing and coarse attitude, the dark-haired tart was well formed, both graceful and sensual in her own vulgar way.

He had thought her extremely young at first glance, but now, as the sunlight slanted across her face, he saw she was a lovely woman of perhaps twenty-five. Her hair, though cut haphazardly, appeared a lush dark chestnut, and her complexion beneath the smudges of dirt seemed not quite brown, not quite clear. “Golden” sprang to mind. And her eyes were a sparkling bronze beneath long, black lashes.

What a pity that such beauty was given to one so vulgar. That Penworthy had such questionable taste in bed partners was none of his affair. If only the man would make quick work of it and send her away. Unfortunately, the whore gleefully relaxed into her chair as if intending to remain.

Stifling his irritation, Marcus decided to opt for expediency over good manners. Reaching into his pocket, he produced a guinea and lifted it up to the light. As expected, her eyes were drawn to the flash of gold, though other than that, her expression remained curiously bland.

“I see your stockings are in need of repair,” Marcus said coolly. “Perhaps you would like to go purchase another pair.” Then he flicked the coin into the air, not in the least bit surprised when it disappeared into her dress faster than his eye could follow.

“Auw!” she cried again, and this time Marcus could not restrain his flinch at the sound. “Want t’ talk man t’ man, do ye? Well, don’t ye worry, ducks,” she said, reaching forward to pat his cheek like a fond old aunt. “Ye ain’t got nothing wot I ain’t seen or ’eard afore.”

Marcus stiffened, his temper fraying by the second. But before he could give voice to any of the blistering responses that came to mind, Penworthy once again interrupted.

“Fantine, would you like some tea?”

“Why, thanks, luv, but no’ now. Perhaps later.”

Marcus shifted his gaze to his friend, surprised for the second time that day. Surely Penworthy meant to send her away. She could not be part of their discussion.

Almost as soon as the thought formed, Marcus answered his own question. No doubt the woman had discovered some information through her sordid life on the street. Penworthy wished Marcus to question her.

Marcus relaxed, his faith in the elderly man restored. What the MP had done was quite right, quite right indeed. Meanwhile, he glanced discreetly to his left, seeing that the tart waited as well, though her gaze fell disdainfully on himself.

Before he could return the scrutiny, Penworthy began speaking, his voice tired and hurried. “There has been an attempt on Wilberforce’s life.”

Marcus did not move, but his attention sharpened instantly. “Is he harmed?”

“No, thank God. We were saved by a lucky accident. We cannot expect such felicity in the future.”

No, agreed Marcus silently, they certainly could not. William Wilberforce was a powerful member of the House of Commons, one of the nation’s most influential leaders. A diminutive man with thin, crippled legs, he still maintained high moral and religious standards. When he spoke, it was with amazing power and eloquence. His life was an example of Christian intensity and political power. In short, Wilberforce was one of the few men Marcus openly admired.

The thought that someone had attempted to kill the famous MP sent chills down Marcus’s spine. “It must be because of the antislavery bill.”

“My thought exactly,” said Penworthy. “If Wilberforce were to die now, his reform bill might expire with him. But who would want that so much as to kill him?”

Marcus frowned, shifting through Parliament’s faces and names, searching for the one man whose guilt made sense.

“Harris. It has to be him.”

“Why?”

“He has loudly opposed the bill, fighting it with everything from bribes to threats, but it all stopped this last month.”

“Almost as if he had found an alternate solution?”

“Such as murder.”

Penworthy nodded, his gaze thoughtful, and Marcus felt a surge of pride that he could have been of assistance. Then a rude snort broke his mood.

“Precious little to ’ang a man fer murder,” said the tart. “Me ’eart goes out t’ this ’Arris.”

He turned to her, not bothering to hide his annoyance. How like the lowbred woman to assume Harris would come to such a violent end. “Rest assured,” he said coldly, “the matter shall be dealt with appropriately. Despite the joy and increased trade I am sure you enjoy at a hanging, I am afraid that is not the end for an MP, even if he is a coldblooded killer.”

“Ew, la-di-da,” she cried, clearly mocking him, but he had already turned his shoulder to her, confident that his tone and attitude would more than silence the unwanted companion. Indeed, he regretted that he had not insisted the wench remain outside the room. He did not like that she had heard the matter at hand. By nightfall, every tavern keep in London would know of their suspicions.

But before he could more than lift his snifter, her voice cut through his thoughts. It was not the screeching dockside wail he expected, but something entirely different. Suddenly, her voice was low and husky, stiff with matronly outrage and a gossip’s undertone. It was so different that he caught himself looking about the room for another person.

“You are quite correct, my lord,” she said. “I, myself, cannot abide such blood sport. Truly it is an act for the masses, though I fear we stir their passions overmuch. Why just last month I attended a hanging, and I saw two filthy boys brawling over a ha’penny. Imagine!”

Marcus turned back to her, his jaw slack. Then she leaned forward, reaching for the tea service with smooth and maidenly modesty despite her ragged clothing.

“Would you care for some tea, Lord Penworthy? I find that good English tea always stimulates the mind and the digestion. Most beneficial for weighty matters of state, do you not agree?”

Penworthy nodded, clearly not in the least bit surprised. “Of course, Fantine. Thank you.”

Marcus watched dumbfounded as she served his friend tea with sugar, clearly demonstrating that she had learned of his preference beforehand. She turned expectantly to Marcus.

“And you, my lord? Ah, never mind,” she said with a mischievous smile. “I can tell you would prefer stronger spirits, especially as yours seems to have deserted you.”

Marcus stiffened at the insult. He held back a scathing comment demanding Penworthy explain himself. He had no expectation that she would illuminate this odd situation. But even as he turned toward his mentor, the elderly man shrugged.

“Do not look at me for answers. If I had warned you in advance, she would have behaved the perfect society miss and then you would have thought my wits had gone begging—”

“Ah,” interrupted the strange woman as she poured her own tea, “but I believe Lord Chadwick thought so in any event. Imagine,” she said, slipping into her tart tone, “a peer o’ the realm introducing a dockside fancy piece to ’is friends!”

Marcus winced at her abrupt shift in accent, only now realizing that she had read him perfectly, guessed his assumptions, and had, in fact, played upon them to make him feel all the more uncomfortable.

For the first time in three years, his blood began the slow simmer toward fury. But he kept it contained, purposely turning his shoulder to the woman as he addressed his friend in low tones as sharp as any blade. “Why is she here?”

Penworthy opened his mouth to respond, but once again she cut in, her voice tripping expertly over the accents of a dockside chippy. “Why, to catch yer thievin’, murderin’ aristocrat, ducky!”

Marcus felt his breath catch in his throat. It could not be true. Penworthy was not a foolish man. He would never employ such a woman.

But as the moments ticked by without a word from his associate, Marcus’s confidence began to waver. As the seconds dragged into minutes, Marcus found himself studying Penworthy’s guilty expression.

“You cannot be serious,” Marcus finally exploded. “You cannot send this…this creature to apprehend a peer! Why, she would make a circus of the whole affair!”

“Aye, an’ won’t that be just peachy for th’ masses?” she chimed in.

Marcus turned, his eyes critical as he rudely inspected her from top to bottom. He could not tell whether she was a smart miss playing the whore or a whore playing a society maid. But either way, she was not in the least bit qualified to stop a threat to one of the nation’s leaders. Why, he would not trust her to black his boots properly!

But as he turned to Penworthy, he saw from his friend’s set expression that he truly did intend just that. “Good God,” Marcus sputtered, “but she is an actress!” He spat the word out like bad meat.

Finally, Penworthy spoke, and his voice sounded calm, albeit weary. “No, Marcus, Fantine is very much more than an actress, just as you are very much more than a rich peer.” That last part was clearly directed at the woman, but she appeared to take no note of it. “In actual fact, I hoped the two of you would work together on this particular assignment.”

“What?” he cried, surging to his feet.

“Impossible!” she exclaimed at exactly the same instant.

He spun around to glare at her though his words were aimed at his friend. “I have given up this skulking about, as you well know, Penworthy. But even if I had not, God himself could not make me teach this street rat what she needs to know.”

“Teach me!” she cried, leaping to her own feet to match him glare for glare. “God Himself could not teach you what you need to learn.” Then she spun back to Penworthy. “If you think I shall allow myself to be hampered by this spoiled flash, then your wits are addled by the pox!”

“The pox!” Marcus retorted. “Perhaps that is why you imagine you could possibly—”

“Do not even attempt to speak to me with that tone—” Suddenly, a loud hacking cough interrupted both of them. They turned together, and Marcus’s eyes widened at the sight of his dear friend coughing blood into a handkerchief.

“Have some tea, my lord,” the woman said, as she deftly poured him another cup. But Penworthy merely shook his head, his face a dull gray.

“Brandy,” he whispered.

“No…” she began, but Marcus was already at the sideboard, pouring a brandy. Penworthy accepted it with alacrity, gulping it down too quickly, then gesturing for more.

Marcus, however, hesitated. “Sir,” he began slowly, “if your health is precarious—”

“Pray do not pretend concern now,” interrupted the shrew. “Not after giving him the drink.”

Marcus turned to her, using the motion to set aside the brandy, well away from Penworthy. He had not intended to respond to her gibe, but one look at her contemptuous expression had him pulling on his aristocratic bearing like a coat, words tumbling from his mouth without conscious thought. “His color is much better now,” he said, his voice fairly reeking with hauteur.

She merely shook her head and mocked him with an inelegant snort. He responded silently, raising his eyebrow with an equally contemptuous sneer. Then she mimicked his pose, adding an extra measure of haughtiness by pretending to lift a quizzing glass to her eye, and suddenly he had the strongest desire to stick out his tongue at her.

Had he regressed to the point of infancy? he wondered as he struggled to control his baser instincts.

Meanwhile, Penworthy interrupted his thoughts. “Where were we?” he wheezed.

“Saving Wilberforce’s life,” supplied Marcus gently.

“Ah, yes,” returned Penworthy. “Fantine, can you help me protect the MP, please?”

She straightened her shoulders, her expression sickeningly demure. “Of course, my lord. It would be my great honor to do my duty for England and my king.” Marcus merely rolled his eyes.

“Naturally, you will receive your standard pay,” returned Penworthy.

Marcus shifted, his face pulling into an unholy grin. “Standard pay? For doing your patriotic duty?”

“Some o’ us,” she said, shifting into her dockside accent, “ain’t paid just t’ breathe an’ dress fancy, ducks. It be this or on me back, spreading me thighs for the loikes of you. An’ believe me,” she added in an undertone, “I’d rather face a whole battalion o’ Frenchies than spread for you.”

Marcus felt his hands clench at the insult, but he kept his comments to himself. Despite his fury, he was still a man ruled by reason. He had no right to question or mock her method of earning a living, especially if those were indeed her only two choices.

“You have other choices than that, Fantine, as you well know,” Penworthy said harshly. “If you would but—”

“No,” she interrupted hastily. “I cannot.”

“You can.”

She merely shook her head, her mouth pressed tightly together, and Marcus frowned, wondering at the exchange. Did he sense an edge of fear from the raucous woman? A vulnerability, maybe, but to what? Penworthy? Or whatever Penworthy offered? He didn’t know, and there was no time to ponder as his mentor turned to him.

“What of you, Marcus? Fantine could search through the rookeries while you investigate from Grosvenor Square. The Season will begin soon. There will be ample opportunity to mingle without raising comment.”

“Merely the interest of every matchmaking mama from here to Scotland,” he responded dryly as he crossed to the sideboard for more brandy.

“Ah, poor ducks,” Fantine cut in. “All them laidies tossin’ ’emselves at yer feet. Ain’t it a pity they’s all blind t’ wot ye’re really loike?”

He turned slowly, knowing his gaze was cold and cruel. “Quite true,” was all he said, but he had the satisfaction of seeing her bronze eyes widen with surprise. Of course, she quickly shifted her expression into an exaggerated pout that perfectly mimicked any of a dozen society misses. The final touch came when she coyly began fluttering her eyelashes at him.

So exact was her imitation that he might have laughed out loud. As it was, he merely clenched his jaw and focused on Penworthy. “There is nothing she can do from the docks,” Marcus said curtly. “Harris does not go there.”

“We do not know that Harris is the guilty one.”

“He is the most likely candidate,” Marcus returned.

Before Penworthy could speak, Fantine cut in again, apparently unable to keep silent for more than a few seconds. “Let him blunder after this Lord Harris, Penworthy. If my usual contacts cannot discover the culprit’s identity, then I shall pay Ballast for the information. The worst Lord Chadwick can do is make the true villain more confident, thinking you have hired a bumbling idiot to chase him.”

“Fantine,” said Penworthy, his voice weary and soft, “you are not being helpful.”

“And you are being ridiculous,” she answered as she folded her arms. “You cannot think a starched-up popinjay could do more than bungle the entire affair.”

Marcus held back a caustic retort, knowing she was baiting him. He was aware as well that despite the harpy’s ramblings, Penworthy knew his true value. Still, he could not resist questioning the other man. “Do you seriously intend to allow her to investigate?”

Penworthy shrugged. “I know no one better.”

“You know me.”

“You have not said yes.”

Marcus looked down, idly swirling the amber liquid in his glass. “My mother reminds me that when she was my age, her sons were entering Harrow.”

Penworthy nodded. “An excellent school. I made many lifelong friends there.”

Marcus did not respond, knowing that his mentor understood the problem, but was too polite to comment. The difficulty, of course, was that his mother wanted grandchildren. And his father wished Marcus would do his duty to continue the family name. That meant finding a wife and setting up his nursery, not embroiling himself in another sordid drama, especially one that might endanger his life, limb, and ability to procreate.

Then his eyes chanced to fall on Fantine’s shapely leg. Her gown was in tatters, artfully designed to advertise her attributes without showing too much. She was clearly canny at her trade, whether actress or whore, and Penworthy would not put his faith in her for no reason. If she were remotely competent, he could refuse Penworthy with good conscience.

But the thought of William Wilberforce, a name synonymous with Christian piety, placing his life in her soiled hands frankly turned his stomach. At best, her blundering about would cause countless political embarrassments. At worst, she would expose herself to the villain. The risks to Wilberforce and the nation aside, he could not allow her to take on the task. She would be killed within a week.

“Very well,” he said. “I shall do it.”

“Excellent,” cried Penworthy, not nearly loud enough to drown out Fantine’s groan. Then he returned to his desk, as if dismissing the entire matter from his mind. “I trust the two of you will not kill each other while coordinating your activities?”

Marcus looked up abruptly. “Coordinate? You cannot mean she will continue.”

“Of course I shall continue!” she snapped. “I am your only hope of remaining alive.” Then she was once again on her feet, stepping directly up to his friend. “Penworthy, please do not be a fool in this. He is a lord and an MP,” she said, gesturing toward Marcus. “Surely he has someone who cares for him. His mother, if no one else. Do not put him into a situation he cannot handle. It is too dangerous.”

It was some moments before Marcus understood she referred to him, and another moment before he realized that Penworthy appeared to be seriously considering her words.

It was too much, the perfect coup de grace on a ruined afternoon. It was bad enough to be insulted, harangued, and mocked by an actress who could not decide whether she was a strumpet or a lady, but to finally circumvent his principles in the interest of saving a cheap bawd only to have Penworthy think of pulling him off…It was insupportable! “Penworthy,” he said, setting down his glass with a click. “I will not work with her. I will not speak with her. In fact, I heartily intend never to look upon her again. Do not even think I shall budge on this.”

“And I,” she said, matching his bearing with her own arrogance, “will not risk either Wilberforce or myself with him strutting about!”

Her cry echoed through the room, but it did nothing to diminish his own position. It was now for Penworthy to decide who was the most appropriate person for the task.

Marcus had no doubt as to the outcome.

But Penworthy’s response did not come immediately. He took his time, setting his hands on his desk with arthritic precision, slowly lifting his body from his chair until he stood and glared at them both. When he spoke, his voice vibrated with a low fury that seemed to come from deep within the aged frame.

“This matter has already taken up too much of my time. Hear me and hear me well. This is too important for the two of you to spend your time fighting. You will work together. You will coordinate your activities, and you bloody well will do it without botching or I shall have you both clapped in irons and locked in Newgate!”

Penworthy looked more fierce, more furious than Marcus had ever seen him before. But Marcus was not a future earl to no purpose. He had never been intimidated in his life, and he had no intention of starting now. He merely lounged backward against the sideboard and smiled at his dearest friend in the world.

“You would not dare,” he said softly.

“Aye,” she agreed, her own voice gentle. “You would not do that to me.”

Penworthy, however, narrowed his gaze, his expression colder than Marcus had ever thought possible.

“Try me,” was all he said.

For a long moment, all that could be heard was the nearly silent tick of the gilt clock on the mantel. Penworthy’s glare shifted with measured pace between both Marcus and Fantine, his every muscle daring them to defy him.

It took less than a second for Marcus to realize that he had no prayer of winning this argument. Honor, duty, and loyalty all demanded he capitulate. If Penworthy persisted in the madness of using Fantine, and it certainly appeared that he intended to, then Marcus’s only option was to try and mitigate the damages. One look at Fantine’s disgusted expression, and he knew she had come to the same conclusion. Although, apparently, in her arrogance, she thought it was he who would mismanage everything.

In short, the two of them would have to work together to save Wilberforce. God help the poor MP.


No Place for a Lady

No Place for a Lady

Fanny Delarive knows the slums better than anyone—the perfect partner to help Marcus Kane, Lord Chadwick, pursue a would-be murderer into the dangerous underbelly of London. Though a woman of Fantine’s ilk is entirely unsuitable for him, Lord Chadwick finds her infinitely more exciting than any well-born lady he’s ever…