Excerpt from To Desire a Devil
Few events are as boring as a political tea. The hostess of such a social affair is often wildly desirous for something—anything—to occur at her party so as to make it more exciting.
Although, perhaps a dead man staggering into the tea was a little too exciting, Beatrice Corning reflected later.
Up until the dead-man-staggering-in bit, things had gone as usual with the tea party. Which was to say it was crashingly dull. Beatrice had chosen the blue salon, which was, unsurprisingly, blue. A quiet, restful, dull blue. White pilasters lined the walls, rising to the ceiling with discreet little curlicues at their tops. Tables and chairs were scattered here and there, and an oval table stood at the center of the room with a vase of late Michaelmas daisies. The refreshments included thinly sliced bread with butter and small, pale pink cakes. Beatrice had argued for the inclusion of raspberry tarts, thinking that they at least might be colorful, but Uncle Reggie—the Earl of Blanchard to everyone else—had balked at the idea.
Beatrice sighed. Uncle Reggie was an old darling, but he did like to pinch pennies. Which was also why the wine had been watered down to an anemic rose color, and the tea was so weak one could make out the tiny blue pagoda at the bottom of each teacup. She glanced across the room to where her uncle stood, his plump bandy legs braced and hands on hips, arguing heatedly with Lord Hasselthorpe. At least he wasn't sampling the cakes, and she'd watched carefully to make sure his wineglass was filled only once. The force of Uncle Reggie’s ire had made his wig slip askew. Beatrice felt a fond smile tug at her lips. Oh, dear. She gestured to one of the footmen, gave him her plate, and began slowly winding her way across the room to put her uncle to rights.
Only, a quarter of the way to her goal she was stopped by a light touch at her elbow and a conspiratorial whisper. "Don't look now, but His Grace is performing his famous imitation of an angry codfish."
Beatrice turned and looked into twinkling sherry-brown eyes. Lottie Graham was only a smidgen over five feet, plump, and dark-haired, and the innocence of her round, freckled face was entirely belied by the sharpness of her wit.
New York Times, Publisher's Weekly, and USA Today bestseller!
"Hoyt concludes her Four Soldiers Quartet with the kind of powerfully emotional, sensual romance, tinged with fairy tale, that readers have come to expect from this gifted storyteller."
—Kathe Robin, Romantic Times BOOKreviews
"Hoyt brings her Georgian-set The Legend of the Four Soldiers series to a riveting conclusion as dark, tortured Reynaud finds romantic redemption with the quietly resourceful Beatrice. Rich with dangerous intrigue, suffused with desire, and spiked with wit, To Desire a Devil is nothing less than brilliant."
—John Charles, Booklist
"Beatrice and Reynaud's sexual relationship is boiling hot and explicit. Elizabeth Hoyt has brought her saga to a close with a dramatic flair of mystery entwined with a good representation of history. "
—Kay Quintin, FreshFiction.com
"Elizabeth Hoyt is a master of the historical romance. With seduction, desire, and excellent characters, there is no way to go wrong with To Desire a Devil."
"Ms. Hoyt weaves her magic as she has created a memorable hero in Reynaud. "
—Susan T., FallenAngelReviews.com
“As usual, the best was saved for last.”
—Detra Fitch, Huntress Reviews
“Elizabeth Hoyt is a master of historical romance.”
—Nanette Donahue, Historical Novels Review
"He isn't," Beatrice murmured, and then winced as she casually glanced over. Lottie was quite correct, as usual—the Duke of Lister did indeed look like an enraged fish. "Besides, what does a codfish have to get angry about anyway?"
"Exactly," Lottie replied, as if having made her point. "I don't like that man—I never have—and that's entirely aside from his politics."
"Shh," Beatrice hissed. They stood by themselves, but there were several groups of gentlemen nearby who could overhear if they'd wished. Since every man in the room was a staunch Tory, it behooved the ladies to hide their Whig leanings.
"Oh, pish, Beatrice, dear," Lottie said. "Even if one of these fine learned gentlemen heard what I'm saying, none of them have the imagination to realize we might have a thought or two in our pretty heads--especially if that thought doesn't agree with theirs."
"Not even Mr. Graham?"
Both ladies turned to look at a handsome young man in a snowy white wig in the corner of the room. His cheeks were pink, his eyes bright, and he stood straight and strong as he regaled the men about him with a story.
"Especially not Nate," Lottie said, frowning at her husband.
Beatrice tilted her head toward her friend. "But I thought you were making headway in bringing him to our side?"
"I was mistaken," Lottie said lightly. "Where the other Tories go, there goest Nate as well, whether he agrees with their views or no. He's as steadfast as a titmouse in a high wind. No, I'm very much afraid he'll be voting against Mr. Wheaton's bill to provide for retired soldiers of His Majesty's army."
Beatrice bit her lip. Lottie's tone was nearly flippant, but she knew the other woman was disappointed. "I'm sorry."
Lottie shrugged one shoulder. "It's strange, but I find myself more disillusioned by a husband who has such easily persuaded views than I would be by one whose views were entirely opposite but passionately held. Isn't that quixotic of me?"
"No, it only shows your own strong feeling." Beatrice linked her arm with Lottie's. "Besides, I wouldn't give up on Mr. Graham yet. He does love you, you know."
"Oh, I do know." Lottie examined a tray of pink cakes on the nearby table. "That's what makes the whole thing so very tragic." She popped a cake into her mouth. "Mmm. These are much better than they look."
"Lottie!" Beatrice protested, half laughing.
"Well, it's true. They're such proper little Tory cakes that I'd've thought they'd taste like dust, but they have a lovely hint of rose." She took another cake and ate it. "You realize that Lord Blanchard's wig is crooked, don't you?"
"Yes." Beatrice sighed. "I was on my way to setting it right when you waylaid me."
"Mmm. You'll have to brave Old Fishy, then."
Beatrice saw that the Duke of Lister had joined her uncle and Lord Hasselthorpe. "Lovely. But I still need to save poor Uncle Reggie's wig."
"You courageous soul, you," Lottie said. "I'll stay here and guard the cakes."
"Coward," Beatrice murmured.
She had a smile on her lips as she started again for her uncle's circle. Lottie was right, of course. The gentlemen who gathered in her uncle's salon were the leading lights of the Tory Party. Most sat in the House of Lords, but there were commoners here as well, such as Nathan Graham. They would all be outraged if they found out that she held any political thoughts at all, let alone ones that ran counter to her uncle's. Generally she kept these thoughts to herself, but the matter of a fair pension for veteran soldiers was too important an issue to neglect. Beatrice had seen firsthand what a war wound could do to a man—and how it might affect him for years after he left His Majesty's army. No, it was simply—
The door to the blue salon was flung savagely open, cracking against the wall. Every head in the room swiveled to look at the man who stood there. He was tall, with impossibly wide shoulders that filled the doorway. He wore some type of dull leather leggings and shirt under a bright blue coat. Long black hair straggled wildly down his back, and an overgrown beard nearly covered his gaunt cheeks. An iron cross dangled from one ear, and an enormous unsheathed knife hung from a string at his waist.
He had the eyes of a man long dead.
"Who the hell're—" Uncle Reggie began.
But the man spoke over him, his voice deep and rusty. "Où est mon père?"
He was staring right at Beatrice, as if no one else in the room existed. She was frozen, mesmerized and confused, one hand on the oval table. It couldn't be . . .
He started for her, his stride firm, arrogant, and impatient. "J'insiste sur le fait de voir mon père!"
"I . . . I don't know where your father is," Beatrice stuttered. His long stride was eating up the space between them. He was almost to her. No one was doing anything, and she'd forgotten all her schoolroom French. "Please, I don't know—"
But he was already on her, his big, rough hands reaching for her. Beatrice flinched; she couldn't help it. It was as if the devil himself had come for her, here in her own home, at this boring tea of all places.
And then he staggered. One brown hand grasped the table as if to steady himself, but the little table wasn't up for the task. He took it with him as he collapsed to his knees. The vase of flowers crashed to the floor beside him in a mess of petals, water, and glass shards. His angry gaze was still locked with hers, even as he sank to the carpet. Then his black eyes rolled back in his head, and he fell over.
"Good God! Beatrice, are you all right, my dear? Where in blazes is my butler?"
Beatrice heard Uncle Reggie behind her, but she was already on her knees beside the fallen man, unmindful of the spilled water from the vase. Hesitantly, she touched his lips and felt the brush of his breath. Still alive, then. Thank God! She took his heavy head between her palms and placed it on her lap so that she might look at his face more closely.
She caught her breath.
The man had been tattooed. Three stylized birds of prey flew about his right eye, savage and wild. His commanding black eyes were closed, but his brows were heavy and slightly knit as if he disapproved of her even when unconscious. His beard was untrimmed and at least two inches long, but she made out the mouth beneath, incongruously elegant. The lips were firm, the upper one a wide, sensuous bow.
"My dear, please move away from that . . . that thing," Uncle Reggie said. He had his hand on her arm, urging her to get up. "The footmen can't remove him from the house until you move."
"They can't take him," Beatrice said, still staring at the impossible face.
"My dear girl . . ."
She looked up. Uncle Reggie was such a darling, even when red-faced with impatience. This might very well kill him. And her—what did this mean for her? "It's Viscount Hope."
Uncle Reggie blinked. "What?"
And they both turned to look at the portrait near the door. It was of a young, handsome man, the former heir to the earldom. The man whose death had made it possible for Uncle Reggie to become the Earl of Blanchard.
Black, heavy-lidded eyes stared from the portrait.
She looked back down at the living man. Though his eyes were closed, she remembered them well. Black, angry, and glittering, they were identical to the eyes in the portrait.
Beatrice's heart froze in wonder.
Reynaud St. Aubyn, Viscount Hope, the true Earl of Blanchard, was alive.
Richard Maddock, Lord Hasselthorpe, watched as the Earl of Blanchard's footmen lifted the unconscious lunatic from where he'd collapsed on the floor of the sitting room. How the man had gotten past the butler and footmen in the hall was anyone's guess. The earl should take better care of his guests—the room was filled with the Tory elite, for God's sake.
"Damned idiot," the Duke of Lister growled beside him, putting voice to his own thoughts. "Blanchard should've hired extra guards if the house wasn't safe."
Hasselthorpe grunted, sipping his abominably watered-down wine. The footmen were almost to the door now, obviously laboring under the weight of the savage madman. The earl and his niece were trailing the footmen, speaking in low tones. Blanchard darted a glance at him, and Hasselthorpe raised a disapproving eyebrow. The earl looked hastily away. Blanchard might be higher in rank, but Hasselthorpe's political influence was greater—a fact that Hasselthorpe usually took care to use lightly. Blanchard was, along with the Duke of Lister, his greatest ally in Parliament. Hasselthorpe had his eye on the prime minister's seat, and with the backing of Lister and Blanchard, he hoped to make it within the next year.
If all went according to his plans.
The little procession exited the room and, Hasselthorpe returned his gaze to the guests, frowning slightly. The people nearest to where the man had fallen were in small knots, talking in low, excited murmurs. Something was afoot. One could watch the ripple of some news spreading outward through the crowd. As it reached each new knot of gentlemen, eyebrows shot up and bewigged heads leaned close together.
Young Nathan Graham was in a gossiping group nearby. Graham was newly elected to the House of Commons, an ambitious man with the wealth to back his aspiration and the makings of a great orator. He was a young man to watch and perhaps groom for one's own use.
Graham broke away from the circle and strode to where Hasselthorpe and Lister stood in a corner of the room. "They say it's Viscount Hope."
Hasselthorpe blinked, confused. "Who?"
"That man!" Graham gestured to the spot where a maid was cleaning up the broken vase.
Hasselthorpe's mind momentarily froze in shock.
"Impossible," Lister growled. "Hope has been dead for seven years."
"Why would they think it's Hope?" Hasselthorpe asked quietly.
Graham shrugged. "There was a resemblance, sir. I was close enough to study the man's face when he burst into the room. The eyes are . . . well, the only word is extraordinary."
"Eyes, extraordinary or not, are hardly proof enough to resurrect a dead man," Lister stated.
Lister had cause to speak with flat authority. He was a big man, tall with a sloping belly, and he had an undeniable presence. Lister was also one of the most powerful men in England. It was natural, then, that when he spoke, men took care to listen.
"Yes, Your Grace." Graham gave a small bow to the duke. "But he was asking after his father."
Graham had no need to add and they stood in the Earl of Blanchard's London residence.
"Ridiculous." Lister hesitated, then said, lower, "If it is Hope, Blanchard's just lost his title."
He looked significantly at Hasselthorpe. If Blanchard lost the title, he would no longer sit in the House of Lords. They'd lose a crucial ally.
Hasselthorpe frowned, turning to the life-sized portrait hanging by the door. Hope had been a young man, perhaps only in his twentieth year, when he'd sat for it. The painting depicted a laughing youth, pink and white cheeks unblemished, black eyes merry and clear. If the madman had been Hope, he'd suffered a sea change of monumental proportions.
Hasselthorpe turned back to the other men and smiled grimly. "A lunatic cannot unseat Blanchard. And in any case, no one has proved he's Hope. There is no cause for alarm."
Hasselthorpe sipped his wine, outwardly cool and composed, while inside he acknowledged the unfinished end to his sentence.
There was no cause for alarm . . . yet.
It had taken four footmen to lift Viscount Hope, and even now they staggered under his weight. Beatrice watched the men carefully as she and her uncle trailed behind them, worried they might let him fall. She'd persuaded Uncle Reggie to take the unconscious man to an unused bedroom, although her uncle had been far from happy with the matter. Uncle Reggie had initially been of a mind to toss him into the street. She took a more cautious view, not only from Christian charity, but also from the niggling worry that if this was Lord Hope, they'd hardly help their case by throwing him out.
The footmen staggered into the hall with their burden. Hope was thinner than in his portrait, but he was still a very tall man—over six feet, Beatrice estimated. She shivered. Fortunately, he'd not regained consciousness after glaring at her so evilly. Otherwise she wasn't sure they would've been able to move him at all.
"Viscount Hope is dead," Uncle Reggie muttered as he trotted beside her. He didn't sound as if he believed his protest himself. "Dead these seven years!"
"Please, Uncle, don't let your temper fly," Beatrice said anxiously. He hated being reminded of it, but Uncle Reggie had had an attack of apoplexy just last month—an attack that had absolutely terrified her. "Remember what the doctor said."
"Oh, pshaw! I'm as fit as a fiddle despite what that quack thinks," Uncle Reggie said stoutly. "I know you have a soft heart, m’dear, but this can’t be Hope. Three men swore they saw him die, murdered by those savages in the American Colonies. One of them was Viscount Vale, his friend since childhood!"
"Well, they were obviously wrong," Beatrice murmured. She frowned as the panting footmen mounted the wide dark oak stairs ahead of them. The bedrooms were all on the town house’s third floor. "Mind his head!"
"Yes, miss," George, the eldest footman, replied.
"If that is Hope, then he's lost his mind," Uncle Reggie huffed as they made the upper hall. "He was raving in French, of all things. About his father! And I know absolutely that the last earl died five years ago. Attended his funeral m'self. You’ll not convince me the old earl’s alive, too."
"Yes, Uncle," Beatrice replied. "But I don't believe the viscount knows his father is dead."
She felt a pang for the unconscious man. Where had Lord Hope been all these years? How had he gotten those strange tattoos? And why didn't he know his father was dead? Dear God, maybe her uncle was right. Maybe the viscount's mind was broken.
Uncle Reggie gave voice to her awful thoughts. "The man is insane; that's clear. Raving. Attacking you. I say, shouldn’t you lie down, m’dear? I can send for some of those lemon sweets you like so much, damn the cost."
"That’s very kind of you, Uncle, but he didn't get close enough to lay a hand on me," Beatrice murmured.
"Wasn't for lack of trying!"
Uncle Reggie stared disapprovingly as the footmen bore the viscount into the scarlet bedroom. It was only the second nicest guest bedroom, and for a moment Beatrice had a pang of doubt. If this was Viscount Hope, then surely he merited the first nicest guest bedroom? Or was the point moot since if he was Lord Hope, then he really ought to be in the earl's bedroom, which, of course, Uncle Reggie slept in? Beatrice shook her head. The whole thing was too complicated for words, and, in any case, the scarlet bedroom would have to do for now.
"The man ought to be in a madhouse," Uncle Reggie was saying. "Might murder us all in our sleep when he wakes. If he wakes."
"I doubt he'll do any such thing," Beatrice said firmly, ignoring both her uncle's hopeful tone in his last words and her own uneasiness. "Surely it's only the fever. He was burning up when I touched his face."
"S’pose I'll have to send for a physician." Uncle Reggie scowled at Lord Hope. "And pay for it m'self."
"It would be the Christian thing to do," Beatrice murmured. She watched anxiously as the footmen lowered Hope to the bed. He hadn't moved or made a sound since his collapse. Was he dying?
Uncle Reggie grunted. "And I'll have to explain this to my guests somehow. Bound to be gossiping about it this very moment. We'll be the talk of the town, take my word."
"Yes, Uncle," Beatrice said soothingly. "I can supervise here if you wish to attend to our guests."
"Don't take too long, and don’t get too close to the blighter. No telling what he might do if he wakes." Uncle Reggie glared at the unconscious man before stumping out of the room.
"I won't." Beatrice turned to the waiting footmen. "George, please see that a physician is called in case the earl becomes distracted and forgets the matter." Or thinks better of the cost, she mentally added.
"Yes, miss." George started for the door.
"Oh, and send Mrs. Callahan up, will you, George?" Beatrice frowned at the pale, bearded man on the bed. He was moving restlessly, as if he might be waking. "Mrs. Callahan always seems to know what to do."
"Yes, miss." George hurried from the room.
Beatrice looked at the remaining three footmen. "One of you needs to go tell Cook to warm some water, brandy, and—"
But at that moment, Hope's black eyes flew open. The movement was so sudden, his glare so intense, that Beatrice squeaked like a ninny and jumped back. She straightened and, feeling a little embarrassed of her missishness, hurried forward as Lord Hope began to rise.
"No, no, my lord! You must remain in bed. You're ill." She touched his shoulder, lightly but firmly pushing him back.
And suddenly she was seized by a whirlwind. Lord Hope violently grabbed her, shoved her down on the bed, and fell atop her. He might be thin, but Beatrice felt as if a sack of bricks had landed on her chest. She gasped for air and looked up into black eyes glaring at her malevolently from only inches away. He was so close she could count each individual sooty eyelash.
So close she felt the painful press of that horrid knife in her side.
She tried to press her hand against his chest--she couldn't breathe!--but he caught it, crushing it in his own as he growled, "J'insiste sur le fait—"
He was cut off as Henry, one of the footmen, bashed him over the head with a bed warmer. Lord Hope slumped, his heavy head thumping onto Beatrice's breast. For a moment she was in fear of suffocating altogether. Then Henry pulled him off her. She took a shuddering breath and stood on shaky legs, turning to look at her unconscious patient in the bed. His head lolled, his piercing black eyes veiled now. Would he have really hurt her? He'd looked so evil—demented, even. What in God's name had happened to him? She rubbed her sore hand, swallowing hard as she regained her composure.
George returned and looked shocked when Henry explained what had happened.
"Even so, you shouldn't have hit him so hard," Beatrice scolded Henry.
"'E was hurting you, miss." Henry sounded mulish.
She brushed a trembling hand over her hair, checking that her coiffure was still in place. "Yes, well, it didn't actually come to that, although I admit for a moment I was fearful. Thank you, Henry. I'm sorry, I'm still a bit discomposed." She bit her lip, eyeing Lord Hope again. "George, I think it wise to place a guard at the viscount's door. Day and night, mind you."
"Yes, miss," George replied sturdily.
"It's for his own sake as well as ours," Beatrice murmured. "And I'm sure he'll be fine once he recovers from this illness."
The footmen exchanged uncertain glances.
Beatrice put a bit more steel in her voice to cover her own worry. "I would be obliged if Lord Blanchard didn't hear of this incident."
"Yes, ma'am," George answered for all the footmen, although he still looked dubious.
Mrs. Callahan arrived at that moment, bustling into the room. "What's all the bother, then, miss? Hurley's said there's a gentleman what's collapsed."
"Mr. Hurley is correct." Beatrice gestured to the man on the bed. She turned to the housekeeper eagerly as a thought occurred to her. "Do you recognize him?"
"Him?" Mrs. Callahan wrinkled her nose. "Can't say as I do, miss. Very hairy gentleman, isn't he?"
"Says 'e's Viscount Hope," Henry stated with satisfaction.
"Who?" Mrs. Callahan stared.
"Bloke in the painting," Henry clarified. "Pardon me, miss."
"Not at all, Henry," Beatrice replied. "Did you know Lord Hope before the old earl's death?"
"I'm sorry, no, miss," Mrs. Callahan said. "Came on fresh when your uncle was made the earl, if you remember."
"Oh, that's right," Beatrice said in disappointment.
"Practically the whole staff was," Mrs. Callahan continued, "and them that had stayed . . . Well, they're gone now. It's been five years, after all, since the old earl passed."
"Yes, I know, but I had hoped." How could they say for certain who the man was until someone who'd actually known Hope identified him? Beatrice shook her head. "Well, it doesn't matter at the moment anyway. No matter who he is, it's our duty to care for this man."
So saying, Beatrice ordered her troops and gave out assignments. By the time she'd consulted with the physician—Uncle Reggie hadn't forgotten to send for him after all—supervised Cook making gruel, and planned for a nursing regime, the political tea was long over with. Beatrice left Lord Hope—if that was indeed who he was—under the eagle eye of Henry and drifted down the stairs to the blue sitting room.
It was empty now. Only the damp stain on the carpet gave any evidence of the dramatic events of several hours before. Beatrice stared at the stain for several moments before turning and inevitably facing the portrait of Viscount Hope.
He looked so young, so carefree! She stepped closer, pulled as always by some attracting force she couldn't resist. She'd been nineteen when she'd first seen the portrait. The night she'd arrived at Blanchard House with her uncle, the new Earl of Blanchard, it had been very late. She'd been shown a room, but the excitement of a new house, the long carriage ride, and London itself had caused sleep to escape her. She'd lain wide awake for half an hour or more before pulling on a wrapper and padding down the stairs.
She remembered peeking in the library, examining the study, creeping through the halls, and somehow, inevitably—fatefully, it seemed—she'd ended up here. Here where she stood right now, only a pace before the portrait of Viscount Hope. Then, as now, it was his laughing eyes that had drawn her gaze first. Slightly crinkled, full of mischief and wicked humor. His mouth next, wide, with that slow, sensual curve on the upper lip. His hair was inky black, drawn straight back from a wide brow. He lounged in a relaxed pose against a tree, a fowling gun held casually through the crook of one arm, two spaniels panting adoringly up at that face.
Who could blame them? She'd probably worn the same expression
when she'd first seen him. Maybe she still did. She'd spent
innumerable nights gazing at him just like this, dreaming
of a man who would see inside her and love her only for herself.
On the night of her twentieth birthday, she'd crept down here,
feeling excited and on the verge of something wonderful. The
first time she'd ever been kissed, she'd come here to contemplate
her feelings. Funny how now she couldn't quite remember the
face of the boy whose lips had so inexpertly met her own.
And when Jeremy had returned, broken from the war, she'd come
Beatrice took one last look at those wicked ebony eyes and
turned aside. For five long years she'd mooned over a painted
man, a thing of dreams and fantasy. And now the flesh-and-blood
man lay only two floors above her.
The question was, beneath the hair and beard, under the dirt and madness, was he the same man who'd sat for this portrait so long ago?