Excerpt: Dearest Rogue

Excerpt: Dearest Rogue

Book 8: Maiden Lane

CHAPTER ONE

June 1741
London, England

Captain James Trevillion, formerly of the 4th Dragoons, was used to dangerous places. He’d hunted highwaymen in the stews of St Giles at midnight, apprehended smugglers along the cliffs of Dover, and guarded Tyburn gallows in the midst of a riot. Until now, though, he would not have counted Bond Street among their number.

It was a sunny Wednesday afternoon and fashionable London was gathered en masse, determined to spend its wealth on fripperies and blithely unaware of any impending violence.

As was, for that matter, Trevillion’s charge.

“Do you have the package from Furtleby’s?” inquired Lady Phoebe Batten.

The sister of the Duke of Wakefield, Lady Phoebe was plump, distractingly pretty, and quite pleasant to nearly everyone, excepting himself. She was also blind, which was both why she had her hand on Trevillion’s left forearm and why Trevillion was here at all: he was her bodyguard.

“No, my lady,” he answered absently as he watched one—no, three—big brutes coming toward them, moving against the brightly dressed crowd. One had a nasty scar on his cheek, another was a hulking redhead, and the third appeared to have no forehead. They looked ominously out of place in workmen’s clothes, their expressions intent and fixed on his charge.

Interesting. Until now his duties as bodyguard had mostly been about making sure Lady Phoebe didn’t become lost in a crowd. There’d never been a specific threat to her person.

Trevillion leaned heavily on the cane in his right hand and pivoted to look behind them. Lovely. A fourth man.

He felt something in his chest tighten with grim determination.

“Because the lace was especially fine,” Lady Phoebe continued, “and also at a special price which I’m quite sure I won’t be able to find again for quite some time and if I’ve left it at one of the shops we’ve already visited I’ll be quite put out.”

“Will you?”

The nearest brute—the one without a forehead—was holding something down by his side—a knife? A pistol? Trevillion transferred the cane to his left hand and gripped his own pistol, one of two holstered in black leather belts crisscrossing his chest. His right leg protested the sudden loss of support.

Two shots, four men. The odds were not particularly good.

“Yes,” Lady Phoebe replied. “And Mr. Furtleby made sure to tell me that the lace was made by grasshoppers weaving butterfly wings on the Isle of Man. Very exclusive.”

“I am listening to you, my lady,” Trevillion murmured as the first brute shoved aside an elderly dandy in a full-bottomed white wig. The dandy swore and shook a withered fist.

The brute didn’t even turn his head.

“Are you?” she asked sweetly. “Because—”

The brute’s hand came up with a pistol and Trevillion shot him in the chest.

Lady Phoebe clutched his arm. “What—?”

Two women—and the dandy—screamed.

The other three men started running. Toward them.

“Don’t let go of me,” Trevillion ordered, glancing quickly around. He couldn’t fight three men with only one shot remaining.

“Whyever would I let go of you?” Lady Phoebe asked rather crossly.

He saw out of the corner of his eye that her bottom lip was pushed out like a small child’s. It almost made him smile. Almost. “Left. Now.”

He shoved her in that direction, his right leg giving him hell. The bloody thing had better not collapse on him—not now. He holstered the first pistol and drew the second.

“Did you shoot someone back there?” Lady Phoebe asked as a shrieking matron brushed roughly past her. Lady Phoebe stumbled against him and he wrapped his left arm over her small shoulders, pulling her close to his side. The panicked crowd was surging around them, making their progress harder.

“Yes, my lady.”

There. A couple of paces away a small boy was holding the reins of a rangy bay gelding in the street. The horse’s eyes showed white at the commotion, its nostrils flared wide, but it hadn’t bolted at the shot, which was a good sign.

“Why?” Her face was turned to him, her warm breath brushing his chin.

“It seemed a good idea,” Trevillion said grimly.

He looked back. Two of their attackers, the scarred one and another, had been detained behind a gaggle of screeching society ladies. The redhead, though, was determinedly elbowing through the crowd—straight in their direction.

Damn their hides. He wouldn’t let them get to her.

Not on his watch.

Not this time.

“Did you kill him?” Lady Phoebe asked with interest.

“Maybe.” They made the horse and boy. The horse turned its head as Trevillion grasped the stirrup, but remained calm. Good lad. “Up now.”

“Up where?”

“Horse,” Trevillion grunted, slapping her hand on the horse’s saddle.

“Oi!” shouted the boy.

Lady Phoebe was a clever girl. She felt down to the stirrup and placed her foot in it. Trevillion put his hand squarely on her lush arse and pushed her hard up onto the beast.

“Oof.” She clutched at the horse’s neck, but didn’t look frightened at all.

“Thanks,” Trevillion muttered to the boy, who was now wide-eyed, having caught sight of the pistol in his other hand.

He dropped his cane and scrambled inelegantly into the saddle behind Lady Phoebe. He yanked the reins from the boy’s hand. With the pistol in his right hand, he wrapped his left arm around her waist, still holding the reins, and pulled her firmly against his chest.

The redheaded brute made the horse and grabbed for the bridle, his lips twisted in an ugly grimace.

Trevillion shot him full in the face.

A scream from the crowd.

The horse half-reared, throwing Lady Phoebe into the V of Trevillion’s thighs, but he sternly kneed the beast into a canter, even as he holstered the spent pistol.

He might be a cripple on land but by God in the saddle he was a demon.

“Did you kill that one?” Lady Phoebe shouted as they swerved around a cart. Her hat had fallen off. Light brown locks blew across his lips.

He had her. He had her safe and that was all that mattered.

“Yes, my lady,” he murmured into her ear. Flat, almost uncaring, for it would never do to let her hear the emotion that holding her in his arms provoked.

“Oh, good.”

He leaned forward, inhaling the sweet scent of roses in her hair—innocent and forbidden—and kicked the horse into a full gallop through the heart of London.

And as he did so, Lady Phoebe threw back her head and laughed into the wind.


Phoebe let her head fall to Captain Trevillion’s shoulder—quite improperly—and felt the wind against her face as the horse surged beneath them. She didn’t even realize she was laughing until the sound rushed back to her ears, joyous and free.

“You laugh at death, my lady?” Her guard’s dour words were enough to put a damper on the lightest of spirits, but Phoebe had grown used to Captain Trevillion’s gloomy voice in the last six months. She’d learned to ignore it and him.

Well, more or less.

“I laugh because I haven’t ridden a horse in years,” she said with just a small amount of reproach. She was only human, after all. “And I’ll not let you spoil it for me with false guilt—you were the one who killed that poor man, after all, not I.”

He grunted as the horse cantered around a corner, their bodies leaning as one. His chest was broad and strong behind her, the holstered pistols against her back hard reminders of his potential for violence. She heard an indignant cry as they whipped past and fought the urge to giggle. Strange. She might find the man irksome, but she’d never had any doubt at all that Captain Trevillion would keep her safe.

Even if he didn’t particularly like her.

“He was trying to do you harm, my lady,” Trevillion replied, his tone dry as dust as his arm tightened around her waist and the horse leaped some sort of obstacle.

Oh, that feeling! The swoop of her stomach, the momentary weightlessness, the thump as the horse landed, the movement of powerful equine muscles beneath her. She hadn’t exaggerated to him: it had been years since she’d felt this. Phoebe hadn’t been born blind. In fact, until the age of twelve her eyesight had been quite normal—she hadn’t even needed spectacles. She couldn’t recall now when it had started, but at some point her vision had begun to blur. Bright light made her eyes smart. It wasn’t anything to be worried about at the time.

At least not at first.

Now…now, at the ripe age of one-and-twenty, she had been effectively blind for a year or more. Oh, she could make out vague shapes in very bright sunlight, but on an overcast day like today?

Nothing.

Not the birds in the sky, not the individual petals on a rose, not the fingernails on her own hand, no matter how closely she held it to her face.

All those sights were lost to her now, and with them many of the other simple pleasures in life.

Such as riding a horse.

She tangled her hands in the horse’s coarse mane, enjoying Captain Trevillion’s confident horsemanship. She wasn’t at all surprised at the easy grace with which he guided the animal. He’d been a dragoon—a mounted soldier—and he often accompanied her on her early-morning trips to the Wakefield stables.

Around them the cacophony of London continued, eternally unabated: the rumble of carriage and cart wheels, the tramping of thousands of feet, the babble of voices raised in song and argument, people buying and selling and stealing, callers of wares and the shriek of small children. Horses clip-clopped by and church bells tolled the hour, the half hour, and sometimes even the quarter hour.

As they rode, people shouted at them angrily. A canter was quite fast for London, and judging by the bunching of muscles beneath them and the sudden changes of direction, Trevillion was having to weave in and out of the traffic.

She turned her head toward him, inhaling. Captain James Trevillion wore no scent. Sometimes she could discern coffee or the faint smell of horses on him, but beyond that, nothing.

It was quite irksome. “Where are we now?”

Her lips must have been scandalously close to his cheek, yet she couldn’t see him to be sure. She knew the captain had a lame right leg, knew the top of her head came to his chin, knew he had calluses between the middle finger and ring finger on his left hand, but she had no idea at all what he looked like.

“Can’t you smell, my lady?” he replied.

She raised her head a bit, sniffing, then immediately wrinkled her nose at the distinctive stink—fish, sewage, and rot. “The Thames? Why bring us this way?”

“I’m making sure they aren’t behind us, my lady,” he said, calm as ever.

Sometimes Phoebe wondered what Captain Trevillion would do if she reached up and slapped his face. Or kissed him. Surely he’d not maintain his maddening reserve then?

Not, of course, that she actually wanted to kiss the man. Horrors! His lips were probably as cold as a mackerel’s.

“Would they follow us this far?” she asked doubtfully. The whole thing seemed quite unlikely, now that she thought of it—being attacked in Bond Street of all places! Rather belatedly she remembered her lace and mourned the loss of a really good bargain.

“I don’t know, my lady,” Captain Trevillion replied, somehow managing to sound condescending and emotionless at the same time. “That’s why I’m taking an unexpected route.”

She tightened her grip on the horse’s mane. “Well, what did they look like, my attackers?”

“Like common footpads.”

“Perhaps they were?” she ventured. “Common footpads, I mean. Perhaps they weren’t after me in particular.”

“In Bond Street. In broad daylight.” His voice was completely without inflection.

It would serve him right if she did turn and kiss him, really it would.

She huffed a breath. They’d slowed to a walk now and she patted the horse’s neck, its hair smooth and slightly oily beneath her fingers. It snorted as if agreeing with her opinion of Captain Trevillion. “I can’t think what they wanted with me in any case.”

“Kidnapping for ransom, forced marriage, or mere robbery come to mind immediately, my lady,” he drawled. “You are, after all, the sister of one of the richest and most powerful men in England.”

Phoebe wrinkled her nose. “Has anyone ever told you that you’re excessively blunt, Captain Trevillion?”

“Only you, my lady.” He seemed to have turned his head, for she could feel the brush of his breath against her temple. It smelled very faintly of coffee. “On numerous occasions.”

“Well, let me take this opportunity to add to them,” she said. “Where are we now?”

“Nearing Wakefield House, my lady.”

And with his words, Phoebe suddenly realized the full ghastliness of the situation. Maximus.

She immediately started babbling. “Oh! You know my brother is terribly busy today, what with gathering support for the new act—”

“Parliament isn’t in session.”

“It takes months sometimes,” she said earnestly. “Very important! And…and that estate in Yorkshire is flooding. I’m sure it kept him up half the night. Was it Yorkshire?” she asked with disingenuous desperation. “Or Northumberland? I never can remember, they’re both so very far north. In any case, I really don’t think we ought to bother him.”

“My lady,” Captain Trevillion said with stubborn male finality, “I shall be escorting you to your room, where you might recover—”

“I’m not a little child,” Lady Phoebe interrupted mutinously.

“Perhaps have some tea—”

“Or pap. It’s what my nanny always used to give us in the nursery and I loathed it.”

“And then I shall report today’s events to His Grace,” Trevillion finished, not at all perturbed by her interruptions.

And that was exactly what she was trying to forestall. When Maximus learned of this morning’s debacle he’d use it to hobble her even further.

She wasn’t entirely sure she’d not go insane if that happened. “Sometimes I rather dislike you, Captain Trevillion.”

“I am most gratified that it’s only sometimes, my lady,” he replied, and he brought the horse to a halt with a murmur of approval for the animal.

Drat. They must already be at Wakefield House.

She caught one of his hands in a last-ditch effort, holding it between her far smaller palms. “Must you tell him? I’d really rather you not. Please? For me?” Silly to make a personal appeal—the man didn’t seem to care for anyone, let alone her—but there it was: she was desperate.

“I’m sorry, my lady,” he said, not sounding sorry at all, “but I work for your brother. I’ll not shirk my duty by keeping something so important from him.”

He disentangled his hand from hers, leaving her fingers holding empty air.

“Oh, if it’s your duty, then,” she said, not bothering to keep the disappointment from her voice, “far be it for me to stand in your way.”

It’d been a rather wild hope anyway. She should’ve known that Captain Trevillion was too bloodless to be moved by entreaties aimed at his nonexistent compassion.

He ignored her surliness.

“Stay,” he said, rather as if she were a particularly silly canine, and then belatedly added, “my lady.” And she felt the sudden absence of his heat as he dismounted behind her.

She huffed, but obeyed because she wasn’t nearly such a ninny as he seemed to think her sometimes.

“Cap’n!” That was the voice of their newest footman, Reed, who had a tendency to lapse into a Cockney accent when he was hurried.

“Get Hathaway and Green,” Captain Trevillion ordered.

Phoebe heard the footman running—presumably back into Wakefield House—then several raised male voices and more footsteps, traveling here and there. It was all so confusing. She still sat atop the horse, stranded, unable to dismount alone, and suddenly she realized she hadn’t heard Trevillion’s voice in quite a while. Had he already gone in?

“Captain?”

The horse shifted beneath her, stepping back.

She grabbed for its mane, feeling off-balance, feeling afraid. “Captain.” 

“I’m right here,” he said, his deep voice quite close at her knee. “I haven’t left you, my lady. I’d never leave you.”

Relief flooded her even as she snapped, “Well, I can’t tell if you don’t move and I can’t smell you.”

“Smell me like you do the Thames?” She felt Trevillion’s big hands about her waist, competent and gentle as he lifted her from the saddle. “On the whole, I’d prefer not to stink of fish in order for you to identify me.”

Obviously perfume would be more the thing.”

“I find the thought of being drenched in patchouli equally distasteful, my lady.”

Not patchouli. It’d have to be something more masculine,” she replied, her thoughts diverted to scents and the possibilities as he set her on the ground. “Perhaps quite dark.”

“If you say so, my lady.” His voice held polite doubt.

Trevillion wrapped his left arm about her shoulders. Probably he had one of his awful big guns in his right hand. She felt him lurch just a little as he stepped forward and realized suddenly that he must’ve lost his cane. Dash it! He shouldn’t be walking without it. She knew his leg pained him awfully.

“Phoebe!” Oh, dear, that was Cousin Bathilda Picklewood’s voice. “Whatever’s happened?”

There was a shrill bark and then the patter of paws before Phoebe felt Mignon, Cousin Bathilda’s darling little spaniel, jump at her skirts.

Cousin Bathilda’s “Mignon, down!” clashed with Trevillion’s deeper tone saying, “If you’ll just let me bring her inside, ma’am.”

And then they were climbing the front steps to Wakefield House.

“I’m quite all right,” Phoebe said, because she didn’t want Cousin Bathilda worrying unnecessarily. “But Captain Trevillion’s lost his stick and I really think he ought to have another.”

“What—?”

“Sir.” That was Reed again.

“Reed,” Trevillion snapped, completely ignoring both Phoebe and Cousin Bathilda. Men. “I want you and Hathaway to accompany Lady Phoebe to her rooms and stay with her there until I order otherwise.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Oh, for goodness’ sake,” Phoebe said as they made the threshold and for some reason Mignon began yapping excitedly, “I hardly need two—”

“My lady—” Trevillion started ponderously. Oh, she knew that tone of voice.

“I don’t understand,” Cousin Bathilda began.

And then a baritone voice cut across the commotion, sending an absolute thrill of dread down her spine.

“What the hell is going on?” asked her brother, Maximus Batten, the Duke of Wakefield.


Tall and lean with a long, lined face, the Duke of Wakefield carried his rank as another man might carry a sword—no matter how ceremonial it looked, the blade was sharp and deadly when put to use.

Trevillion bowed to his employer. “Lady Phoebe is unhurt, Your Grace, but I have matters to report.”

Wakefield arched a dark eyebrow beneath his white wig.

Trevillion held the other man’s gaze. Wakefield might have been a duke but Trevillion was more than used to staring down irate superior officers. Meanwhile his lower right leg shot daggers of pain up to his hip and he prayed that it wouldn’t choose now of all occasions to give out on him.

The front hallway had grown quiet the moment the duke had entered. Even Miss Picklewood’s lapdog had stopped barking.

Lady Phoebe shifted under his arm, her petite body warm beside his, before sighing heavily into the silence. “Nothing happened, Maximus. Really, there’s no need—”

“Phoebe.” Wakefield’s voice halted her attempted deflection.

Trevillion’s arm tightened about her small shoulders for just a moment before he let it drop. “Go with Miss Picklewood, my lady.”

If his voice had been capable of being gentle he might’ve made it so now. Her light-brown hair was coming down around her slender shoulders, her round cheeks pink from the wind of their ride, her mouth a reddened rosebud. She looked young and a little lost, though she stood in her own ancestral home. He wanted rather badly to go to her and take her into his arms again. To offer comfort where it was neither needed nor wanted. Something in his chest ached—just once, briefly—before he shoved it down and covered it with all the reasons his instinctive reactions were impossible—and foolish to boot.

Instead he turned to the footmen. “Reed.”

Reed had formerly been a soldier under his command. He was tall and on the thin side, his narrow chest not quite filling out his livery. His hands and feet were too large for his frame, his knees and elbows knobby and awkward. But his eyes were sharp in his unhandsome face. Reed nodded, having received and understood the command without needing further instruction. He jerked his chin at Hathaway, a young stripling of only nineteen summers, and both men fell into step behind the ladies as Miss Picklewood guided Lady Phoebe away.

Lady Phoebe was muttering about overbearing gentlemen as she left, and Trevillion had to bite back a smile.

“Captain.” The duke’s voice chased any desire to smile from Trevillion’s mind. Wakefield tilted his head toward the back of the house, where his study lay, before pivoting in that direction.

Trevillion followed.

Wakefield House was one of the largest private residences in London and the corridor they now traversed was long. Trevillion’s leg grew progressively worse as they passed elegant statuary, the door to the Little Library, and a sitting room before arriving at the duke’s study. The room wasn’t big, but it was well appointed in dark wood and had a plush, jewel-colored carpet.

Wakefield closed the door before rounding the enormous carved desk and seating himself.

Normally Trevillion would stand before His Grace, but it was simply impossible today, rank be damned. He dropped rather clumsily into one of the chairs before the desk just as the study door opened again to reveal Craven.

The manservant was built a bit like a walking scarecrow: tall, thin, and of ambiguous age—he could have been anywhere from his thirtieth year to his sixtieth. He was nominally the duke’s valet, but very shortly after entering Wakefield’s employ Trevillion had realized the man was much more than that.

“Your Grace,” Craven said.

Wakefield nodded at the man. “Lady Phoebe.”

“I see.” The manservant closed the door behind him and came to stand at the side of the desk.

Both men looked at Trevillion.

“Four men on Bond Street,” Trevillion reported.

Craven’s eyebrows arched nearly to his hairline.

Wakefield swore under his breath. “Bond Street?”

“Yes, Your Grace. I shot two of them, procured a horse, and spirited Lady Phoebe away from the danger.”

“Did they say anything?” The duke frowned.

“No, Your Grace.”

“Anything to identify them?”

Trevillion thought a moment, replaying the events of the afternoon in his mind to make sure he hadn’t missed any detail. “No, Your Grace.”

“Damnation.”

Craven cleared his throat very quietly. “Maywood?”

Wakefield scowled. “Surely not. The man would have to be mad.”

The valet coughed. “His lordship has been uncommonly persistent in wanting to buy your land in Lancashire, Your Grace. We received another letter with quite uncivil language just yesterday.”

“The fool thinks I don’t know that it has coal seams.” Wakefield looked disgusted. “Why the man is so barmy over coal, I haven’t the foggiest.”

“I understand that he thinks it can be used to fuel large mechanical machines.” Craven studied the ceiling.

For a moment Wakefield looked distracted. “Truly?”

“Who is Maywood?” Trevillion asked.

Wakefield turned to him. “Viscount Maywood. A neighbor of mine in Lancashire and a bit of a crackpot. A few years ago he was going on about turnips, of all things.”

“Crackpot or no, he was heard to make threats against your person, Your Grace,” Craven gently reminded.

Me. Threats against me, not my sister,” Wakefield replied.

Trevillion kneaded his right thigh, trying to think. “How would hurting your sister help him with his coal scheme?”

Wakefield waved an impatient hand. “It wouldn’t.”

Hurting Lady Phoebe wouldn’t, Your Grace,” Craven said softly, “but if he were to kidnap her and hold her until you agreed to sell the land…or worse, force her to marry his son…”

“Maywood’s heir is married already,” Wakefield growled.

Craven shook his head. “The boy’s marriage was to a lady of the Catholic persuasion and, as I understand it, not recognized by the Church of England. Thus Maywood has declared his son’s nuptials invalid.”

Trevillion’s lips tightened at the idea of anyone’s forcing Phoebe into a loveless marriage—let alone a bigamous loveless marriage. “Is Maywood mad enough to try such a thing, Your Grace?”

Wakefield leaned back in his chair and stared fixedly at the papers on his desk, deep in thought.

Abruptly he brought his fist down on the tabletop with a bang, making everything rattle. “Yes. Yes, Maywood might be that insane—and stupid. Damn it, Craven, I won’t have Phoebe’s life put in danger because of me.”

“No, Your Grace,” the valet agreed. “Shall I look into the matter?”

“Do. I want definite answers before I move on the man,” Wakefield said.

Trevillion shifted uneasily. “We should investigate other suspects in the meantime. The man behind the kidnapping attempt might not be Maywood at all.”

“You’re right. Craven, we’ll want a general investigation as well.”

“Very good, Your Grace.”

Wakefield’s gaze suddenly lifted, pinning Trevillion. “Thank you, Trevillion, for saving my sister today.”

Trevillion inclined his head. “It’s my job, Your Grace.”

“Yes.” The duke’s gaze was pointed. “Can you continue to protect her with that leg?”

Trevillion stiffened. He had his own doubts, but he wasn’t going to air them here. Simply put, no one else was good enough to guard Lady Phoebe. “Yes, Your Grace.”

“You’re sure.”

Trevillion looked the other man in the eye. He’d commanded men for nearly twelve years in His Majesty’s dragoons. Trevillion didn’t back down from anyone. “If ever I feel that I cannot do my duty, I’ll resign before you need ask me to, Your Grace. You have my word on it.”

Wakefield inclined his head. “Very well.”

“With your permission, I should like to assign Reed and Hathaway permanently to guard her ladyship until such time as we have eliminated the present danger.”

“A sound plan.” Wakefield rose just as a knock came at the door. “Come.”

The door opened to reveal Powers, Lady Phoebe’s lady’s maid. The petite maidservant styled her black hair in an intricate coiffure and wore an embroidered yellow gown a royal princess wouldn’t be ashamed to be seen in.

The woman curtsied at once and spoke in a carefully cultured voice with just a trace of what had once been an Irish accent. “I beg your pardon, Your Grace, but her ladyship wished for Captain Trevillion to have this.”

She held out a walking stick.

Trevillion felt heat climb his neck, but stood carefully, his hand on the back of his chair. It cost him—by God, it cost him—but he asked in a level voice, “If you might bring it to me, Miss Powers.”

She hurried over and gave him the stick.

He thanked her and made himself look at his employer. “If that is all, Your Grace?”

“It is.” Thank God Wakefield wasn’t a man inclined to pity. There was no trace of sympathy in his eyes. “Guard my sister, Captain.”

Trevillion raised his chin and spoke from his heart. “With my life.”

And then he turned and limped from the room.

CHAPTER TWO

“, I simply can’t believe it,” Lady Hero Reading exclaimed early the next afternoon. “An attempted kidnapping in broad daylight and in Bond Street of all places. Who would do such a thing?”

Phoebe smiled a little wanly at her elder sister’s words. “I don’t know, but Maximus wouldn’t even let me go out today—to your house. You’d think he’d consider his own sister’s home safe.”

“He’s worried about you, dear,” came the slightly huskier voice of their sister-in-law, Artemis. All three of them had been forced to take their weekly tea at Wakefield House since Phoebe had been effectively confined to the town house.

Phoebe snorted. “He’s using the attempted attack to do what he’s always wanted to: imprison me utterly.”

“Oh, Phoebe,” Hero said quietly, her voice soft. “That’s not Maximus’s true intent.”

She and Hero shared a velvet settee in the Achilles Salon, so called because the ceiling was painted with a depiction of the centaurs educating a youthful Achilles. As a little girl Phoebe had been rather frightened of the mythical creatures. Their expressions had been so stern. Now…well, now she wasn’t entirely certain she could remember their expressions.

How depressing.

Phoebe turned her face toward her sister and caught the comforting scent of violets. “You know Maximus has been growing ever more overbearing since I broke my arm.”

That had happened four years earlier, when Phoebe could still see somewhat. She’d missed a step in a shop and fallen headlong, breaking her arm badly enough that it had needed setting.

“He wishes to protect you,” Cousin Bathilda said bracingly.

She sat across from Phoebe and Hero, next to Artemis. Phoebe could hear the asthmatic breathing of Mignon on her lap. Cousin Bathilda had been like a mother to both Phoebe and Hero since the death of both their parents. They’d died many years ago at the hands of a footpad in St Giles when Phoebe had been only a baby. At the same time, though, Cousin Bathilda generally sided with Maximus as the patriarch—fratriarch?—of the family. She’d gone against his rule once or twice, but it was rare.

And Cousin Bathilda had never stopped Maximus imposing his overheavy brand of protection on Phoebe.

Phoebe absently stroked the velvet of the settee, feeling the soft nap one way, the slightly rougher texture the other. “I know he cares for me. I know he worries for me. But in doing so, he’s constrained me utterly. Even before this attack Maximus didn’t let me go to parties or fairs or anywhere he deemed dangerous. I’m afraid after this that he’ll pack me in cotton wool and set me at the back of a cupboard for safekeeping. I…I just don’t know if I can live like this.”

Her words weren’t adequate for the rising panic at the thought of being constrained even more.

Warm fingers covered her own, stilling them. “I know, darling,” Hero said. “You’ve been very good following his direction.”

“Let me speak to him,” Artemis said. “In the past he’s been quite adamant about your safety, but perhaps if I can impress upon him how restricted you feel, he’ll let up a bit.”

“If nothing else, he could remove my constant shadow,” Phoebe muttered.

“That is entirely unlikely,” Cousin Bathilda said. “And besides, Captain Trevillion isn’t here now, is he?”

“Only because I’m within Wakefield House.” Phoebe blew out a breath. “I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he lurks behind the door when I’m at tea. And you see Hathaway and Reed?”

“Yes—?” The confused question came from Hero.

“They’re still standing by the back window, aren’t they?” She didn’t wait for an answer. She might not have heard the footmen move in several minutes, but she just knew they were staring at her. “Maximus added them to my guard.”

There was a silence that felt rather uncomfortable to her before Artemis said, “Phoebe…,” and then almost immediately interrupted herself. “No, darling, not the teacup. ’Tisn’t for babies, I’m afraid.”

This last was directed at Hero’s eldest child, William, an adorable two-and-a-half-year-old who, by the sound of the sudden ear-splitting shriek, had really wanted that teacup.

“Oh, William,” Hero muttered, exasperated, as a whimper heralded the awakening of her second son on her lap. “Now he’s woken Sebastian.”

“I’m so sorry, my lady.” Smart, William’s nursemaid, must’ve come over to collect her charge.

“Not your fault, Smart,” Hero said. “The tea things are terribly tempting.”

“May I?” Phoebe held out her hands to Hero.

“Thank you, dear,” Hero said. “Careful now, he’s a bit drooly, I’m afraid.”

“All the best babies are,” Phoebe assured her as she felt the wriggly weight of her nephew on her lap. Immediately she closed her arms over the baby protectively. Sebastian was only three months old and couldn’t quite sit up. She grasped him by his pudgy middle and held him upright, smelling the sweet scent of milk on his skin. “Never mind your mama, Seb, sweetie. I simply adore drooling males.”

She was rewarded for her nonsense by a burbling coo and the sudden introduction of tiny fingers into her mouth.

“You did ask for him,” her sister reminded her.

“Shall I take his lordship out, my lady?” the soft voice of William’s nursemaid murmured.

“Now, William, would you like to go with Smart and explore the garden?” Hero asked briskly. “Here, take a sugar biscuit with you. Thank you, Smart.”

The door opened and closed.

“I like that gel,” Cousin Bathilda observed as Phoebe gently mouthed Sebastian’s little fingers. “Seems competent, but kind with our Sweet William. Where did you find her?”

“Mm,” Hero agreed. “I like Smart as well. So much better than the first nursemaid we had. She was a rather silly girl. Would you believe that Smart was recommended by Lady Margaret’s former housekeeper? Such a terrifyingly competent young woman—the housekeeper, that is, not Megs—but she gave notice and left Megs quite suddenly. Found a better place, I expect.”

“What would be better than the daughter of a marquess?” Artemis asked.

“A duke,” Cousin Bathilda said bluntly. “I’ve heard the gel went to Montgomery to keep his town house.”

“However do you learn of these things?” Hero asked with not a small amount of exasperation. Phoebe could sympathize. Cousin Bathilda always knew the best gossip before anyone else.

“What else do you think I discuss when I take tea with my circle of white-haired ladies?” Cousin Bathilda said. “Why, only yesterday I learned that Lord Featherstone was found admiring the duck pond in Hyde Park with Lady Oppertyne.”

“That doesn’t seem terribly scandalous,” Hero said, sounding puzzled.

“Lord Featherstone wasn’t wearing his breeches at the time,” Cousin Bathilda said triumphantly. “Or his smallclothes.”

Phoebe felt her eyebrows arch.

“But he was wearing Lady Oppertyne’s garter on his—”

“Would you like some more tea?” Hero hastily offered, apparently to the room at large.

Please,” Artemis replied.

China clinked.

Phoebe made a very rude noise with her lips, which caused her nephew to giggle. She squinted, peering as hard as she could, but the light must’ve been too dim in the sitting room. She couldn’t even make out the shape of Sebastian’s head. “Hero?”

“Yes, dear?”

“What color is his hair?”

There was a short silence. Phoebe might not have been able to see, but she knew the other women had looked at her. For a moment she wished—wished with all her heart—that she were normal. That she weren’t a worry, maybe even a burden, to her family. That she could simply look and see, damn it, what her precious nephew looked like.

She couldn’t, though.

Something clattered on the tea table. “Oh, Phoebe, I’m sorry,” Hero gasped. “I can’t believe I’ve never told you—”

“No, no.” Phoebe shook her head, tamping down her frustration. She hadn’t mentioned it to make everyone else feel guilty. “It’s not…you don’t need to apologize, truly. It’s just…I just want to know.”

Hero drew in her breath and it sounded almost like a sob.

Phoebe tightened her lips.

Artemis cleared her throat, her voice low and soothing as always. “His hair is black. Sebastian’s a little baby, of course, but I really think he’ll look nothing like Sweet William. His eyes are a darker brown, his complexion seems to be quite tawny—unlike William’s naturally fair skin—and I do think he’ll have the Batten nose.”

“Oh, no.” Phoebe felt a grin split her lips, her shoulders relaxing. Maximus had a mild version of the Batten nose, but if their ancestors’ portraits were anything to go by, the affliction could be quite prominent.

“I think a largish nose gives a man a certain air of gravitas,” Cousin Bathilda broke in with just a touch of disapproval in her voice. “Even your captain has a bit of a nose and I think it makes him quite dashing.”

“He’s not exactly my captain,” Phoebe said, and then, as much as she knew she shouldn’t, she couldn’t help adding, “Dashing?”

“Rather handsome,” Cousin Bathilda began.

At the same time Artemis said, “I don’t know if dashing is quite—”

“Too severe.” Hero’s voice ended the verbal melee.

Everyone paused to take a breath.

In the ensuing silence, baby Sebastian whimpered.

“He’s probably hungry,” Hero murmured, taking her son.

Phoebe listened to the rustle of clothing as her sister put the baby to her breast. Hero was unfashionable in her desire to nurse her sons herself, but Phoebe rather envied her.

It would be so nice to hold a little warm body to her breast. To know she could nourish and cherish her own child.

Phoebe bowed her head, hoping her longing didn’t show on her face. The fact was, she had pitifully few chances to meet eligible gentlemen—assuming she could even find a man willing to take a blind woman as wife.

“So what exactly does Captain Trevillion look like?” she asked, eager to avoid her morose contemplations.

“We-ell,” Hero began thoughtfully. “He has a long face.”

Phoebe laughed. “That doesn’t tell me anything.”

“Lined.” Artemis spoke up. “His face is lined. He has these sort of indents about his mouth, which is a bit thin.”

“His eyes are blue,” Cousin Bathilda cut in. “Rather nice-looking, really.”

“But piercing,” Hero said. “Oh, and he has dark hair. I understand he wore a white wig as a dragoon, but since retiring he’s let it grow and braided it into a very tight queue.”

“And of course he wears nothing but black,” Artemis said.

“Truly?” Phoebe wrinkled her nose. She’d had no idea she’d been escorted about all this time by an embodiment of Death.

“The Ladies’ Syndicate,” Cousin Bathilda suddenly exclaimed.

“What about it?” Artemis asked.

“Why, we meet tomorrow,” Cousin Bathilda said.

“Of course,” Hero said. “But will Maximus allow Phoebe to go?”

The Ladies’ Syndicate for the Benefit of the Home for Unfortunate Infants and Foundling Children was Hero’s pet project. A club made up exclusively of ladies—no gentlemen were allowed to join—it had been formed to help an orphanage in the slums of St Giles. The Ladies’ Syndicate met irregularly, but Phoebe quite looked forward to the meetings, as they were among the few social events Maximus let her attend.

Or at least he had up until now.

“He won’t let her go,” Artemis said quietly. “Not after yesterday’s events.”

“Oh, but we were to review a possible new member.” Hero’s voice held dismay. “Shall we postpone the meeting, do you think?”

“No.” Phoebe said very firmly. “I’m tired of hiding and being told when and where I can go.”

“But, darling, if it’s dangerous—” Artemis began.

“A meeting of the Ladies’ Syndicate?” Phoebe asked incredulously. “We all know the meetings are safe as can be.”

“They are in St Giles,” Cousin Bathilda pointed out.

“And all the noble ladies of the syndicate bring their strongest footmen. I shall be surrounded by protectors, including my own captain and his two soldiers. I’m not sure Reed even knows anymore that he’s employed by Maximus and not Captain Trevillion.”

“At least you’ll acknowledge he is your captain.” Hero’s voice was teasing before she sobered. Somewhere across the sitting room the door opened. “I don’t see how you’ll get around Maximus, though.”

“I don’t know either, but I shall,” Phoebe declared. “I’m a woman, not a caged singing finch.”

She felt his presence before she heard the boot falls behind her. Dash it. If he would wear a scent she’d at least have some idea when he was about.

“My lady,” Captain Trevillion rasped. “I’ve received word from His Grace that the man behind your kidnapping attempt is no longer a threat to you. May I say, however, that while you may not be a caged bird, neither are you merely a woman. You’re a precious artifact. As long as there are men who wish to steal you, I’ll be right by your side.”

Phoebe felt the heat invade her cheeks. As soon as she could get her captain alone she would tell him exactly how this “artifact” felt about his words.


Trevillion watched as Lady Hero took leave of the other women. They had formed a protective circle around his charge and he thought that had they not been well-bred ladies he would be receiving an earful right now.

From the delicate pink in Lady Phoebe’s cheeks, he still might. She wore a sky-blue dress today. Instead of the usual fichu, her bodice was trimmed with fine lace, framing and cupping her round breasts distractingly. He couldn’t help thinking the cool color of the gown made her mouth look like a ripe berry. Soft. Sweet. Luscious. A mouth he could bite into.

He glanced away, reining in his thoughts.

“I’m so glad that you’ll be able to attend the Ladies’ Syndicate meeting,” Lady Hero murmured as she bussed her sister on the cheek. She sent a dark look at Trevillion before sweeping from the room, head held high.

Trevillion sighed silently.

Miss Picklewood’s lapdog wriggled in her arms and the lady bent stiffly to let the dog down. “I believe Mignon is ready for her daily perambulation.”

“Lovely,” said Her Grace, smiling at the tiny dog dancing against the ladies’ skirts. “I’ll have my maid fetch Bon Bon and we’ll join you, shall we?”

“Excellent,” pronounced Miss Picklewood. “Phoebe, will you be coming as well?”

“I think I’ll take a turn in my garden,” Lady Phoebe replied. She had a polite smile on her face, but Trevillion caught the edge in her voice.

His suspicion was verified when she turned without a word to him and stomped from the sitting room.

He caught a sympathetic glance from Her Grace as he followed after his charge, but he really wasn’t interested in her sympathy.

The sitting room was at the top of the grand staircase leading down to the main floor of Wakefield House. Trevillion watched closely as Lady Phoebe descended the gleaming marble steps. She never even faltered—she never had—but he hated those stairs nonetheless.

On the lower level, Lady Phoebe turned and headed to the back of the house, trailing her fingertips along the hallway wall as she did so. He stalked less gracefully after, watching the sway of her bright-blue skirts as he did so.

She was nearly to the high doors that let out into the garden before he caught up with her. “Childish, my lady, trying to outrun a crippled man.”

She didn’t turn, but her back did stiffen. “We artifacts tend to be a childish lot, I’m afraid, Captain.”

With that she opened the doors and swept out onto the wide granite steps leading down into the garden. The blue of her dress against the gray of the granite and the deep green of the grass brought out the auburn of her light-brown hair. She looked like the embodiment of spring, near angelic in her loveliness.

Well. If she hadn’t been determinedly marching away from him.

He strode forward and caught her arm. “If you’ll permit, my lady.”

He rather thought she growled at that, but he didn’t wait for her answer, simply placing her hand on his left arm. The grass was uneven and she must have realized that she’d look foolish if she fell on her proud little nose.

“You’re hardly a cripple,” she said abruptly.

His mouth twisted as he led her down the steps. “I’m not sure what else one should call a man unable to stand without the help of a cane, my lady.”

She merely snorted in reply. “Well, you may consider yourself a cripple—even though you’re clearly not—but I wish to inform you that whatever else I may be, I’m most certainly not an artifact.”

“I’m sorry if I’ve offended, my lady.”

“Are you?”

He stifled a sigh. “Perhaps if you explained why my perfectly reasonable observations should offend you, my lady.”

“Really, Captain, it’s no wonder at all that you’re not married.”

“Isn’t it?”

“No one wants to be called an artifact, especially no woman.”

A calculated retreat might be in order. “Perhaps my assessment was overly blunt, but you must allow that you are indeed precious to your entire family, my lady.”

“Must I?” She halted, making him stop as well if he didn’t want to leave her. “Why? I’m loved by my family—and I love them in return—but I have to tell you that being called a precious thing makes my stomach turn.”

He glanced at her, surprised at so visceral a reaction. “Many men will see you as such. You’re the sister of a duke, an heiress who—”

“Do you?”

He stared at her, this lovely, vehement, maddening woman. Of course he didn’t see her as a mere artifact. Were she not blind, surely she’d know already.

He’d taken too long. She folded her arms across her bosom, scowling ferociously. “Well, do you, Captain Trevillion?”

“It’s my duty to keep you safe, my lady.”

“Not the question I asked, Captain,” she shot back. “Am I merely a valuable object to you? A jeweled box to protect from thieves?”

No,” he said, hard.

“Good.” She laid her hand on his arm once more, her touch like a brand upon his flesh even through the layers of fabric that separated them.

One of these days he would break, and when he did she’d see he wasn’t made of stone.

Not at all.

But that day wouldn’t be today.

The steps ended on a square of grass. Beyond that was Lady Phoebe’s garden, a tangle of neatly graveled paths that meandered here and there among extravagant mounds of flowering plants. The garden was like none Trevillion had ever seen before. First of all, the flowers were all white. Roses, lilies, daisies of all sorts, and dozens of other blooms that Trevillion was unable to name, for he’d never been that interested in plants.

The second difference in this garden was one only discovered when a person neared it: the perfume that lay heavy in the air. Trevillion had never asked, but as far as he could tell, every single flower in the garden bore a scent. Entering the garden was like stepping into a fairy’s boudoir. Bees buzzed lazily over the blooms while the scent-laden breeze enchanted the senses.

Trevillion turned and watched as Lady Phoebe visibly relaxed. Her shoulders dropped, her hands loosened from half-clenched fists, and a smile played about her plush mouth. She lifted her face to the wind and he caught his breath. Out here, alone with her, he could look his fill. Let his eyes caress the tender curve of her cheek, the stubborn arch of her brow, her mouth, half-parted and moist.

He glanced away again, his lips curling sardonically at his own weakness. She was everything he was not: young, innocent, filled with the joy of life. She had the blue blood of centuries of aristocrats running in her veins.

He was a cynical, older ex-soldier and his blood ran common red.

“Who was he?” she asked, her voice breaking into his thoughts.

He had to clear his throat before he spoke. “To whom do you refer, my lady?”

“My kidnapper, silly.” Her expressive face crinkled. “Oh, I don’t like the sound of that. ‘My kidnapper’ sounds much too intimate. Rather, the scoundrel who attempted to kidnap me. Who was he?”

“Ah.” The gravel crunched beneath their feet as they stepped onto the garden path. “He was, apparently, a neighbor of your brother’s in Lancashire. A man by the name of Maywood.”

She stopped at that, turning to face him, her eyes wide. “Lord Maywood? Really? But he must be sixty at the very least. What did he want with me?”

“His Grace isn’t sure,” Trevillion replied slowly. His meeting with the duke this afternoon had left many of Trevillion’s questions unsatisfied. It made him uneasy. “Possibly Lord Maywood wished to force you to marry his son.”

She frowned at that, her eyebrows gathered above eyes that seemed to stare at the pistols strapped over his heart. “But Lord Maywood confessed to the crime?”

“Not exactly.” Trevillion’s lips flattened. “Lord Maywood sent a threat to your brother last week and one of the men I shot was found to be originally from Lancashire.”

Her dark brows knit. “What did Lord Maywood say when confronted?”

“Nothing, my lady,” he admitted reluctantly. “Maywood died this morning from a sudden attack of apoplexy.”

“Oh.” She blinked, her hand gently stroking the petals of a nearby rose as if for comfort. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

“I am not,” he replied. “Not if it means your safety.”

She said nothing to that, merely turned to continue on their perambulation. “So Maximus feels the affair is over.”

“Yes, my lady.”

The duke seemed content that the matter had ended so neatly, but Trevillion would’ve been much happier had Lord Maywood confessed to the kidnapping. He’d argued that they should still be investigating to see if there was any other possible identity for the kidnapper. Wakefield, however, was convinced that the affair was over.

But without a confession there still remained doubt in Trevillion’s mind.

He didn’t share that thought with Lady Phoebe. No need to worry her without specific cause. Besides, he would remain as vigilant as always.

“Oh, this one’s gone to seed,” Lady Phoebe muttered, fingering a bloom that had lost most of its petals. “Have you a basket?”

He raised his eyebrows. Where and why would he have procured a basket? “No, my lady.”

“Shortsighted of you, really, Captain,” she muttered, and produced a small scissors from a chatelaine at her waist. She snipped off the bloom and held it out to him. “Here.”

Trevillion took the bloom and, with nowhere else to put it, shoved it in his pocket.

“Do you see any others in need of cutting?” she asked, her hands dancing over the plant.

“One.” He caught her fingers, cool and delicate in his larger hand, and brought them to the wasted rose bloom.

“Oh, thank you.”

He flexed his hand. “Don’t you have gardeners to do this?”

“Yes.” She snipped the bloom and again gave it to him. He was forced to place it with its sister. “But why would I wait for them?” Her hands were busily seeking again.

“Because it’s a chore, my lady?”

She laughed, the sound trailing uncomfortably down his spine. “You truly are no gardener, Captain Trevillion.”

She offered no further explanation, but bent to her task. Trevillion was struck by how comfortable she was here, among her flowers, her face bright and open.

“Pity it’s overcast today,” she murmured absently.

He stilled.

He made no sound, yet she must’ve sensed something. She straightened slowly, her too-young face turned toward him, the scissors clutched in her hand. “Captain?”

He’d never before understood what people meant when they talked of breaking hearts.

Now he did.

Still. He’d not ever lied to her before and he wasn’t going to start now. “The sun is shining.”


Everything was black, though Captain Trevillion had told her it was broad daylight.

Phoebe had expected this to happen one day.

Of course she had. Her vision had been getting steadily worse for years. Only a mental incompetent wouldn’t realize where it was leading.

Except…it was one thing for her mind to understand, but it was entirely different for her heart to comprehend. Foolish, feckless thing. Apparently it had held out hope for a miracle.

She laughed at the realization, though it came out more a gasp.

He was there at once, her faithful captain, stern and without humor, but always there. “My lady?” He took her hand in his large, warm one, wrapping an arm about her shoulders as if she might fall.

And really she might.

“It’s silly,” she said, and swiped at her face with a shaking hand, for it seemed she was weeping. “I’m silly.”

“Come. Sit.”

He led her two steps and pulled her down gently to a stone seat, letting her lean into his solid strength.

She shook her head. “I’m sorry.”

Don’t,” he rasped, and if she hadn’t known better she’d have thought he was nearly as shaken as she. “Don’t apologize.”

She inhaled unsteadily. “Do you know why all my flowers are white?”

She half expected him to point out the non sequitur, but he merely replied, “No.”

“The white blooms stood out best for my fading eyesight when I first planted the garden three years ago,” she said. “And of course white flowers are usually the most fragrant. But it was mostly because I thought I might see them better.”

He said nothing, merely tightened his arm about her shoulders, and she was a little grateful that it was he with her now. Had it been Hero or Maximus or Cousin Bathilda she’d have had to worry about their own pain—pain for her loss. But with Captain Trevillion she had simply a sturdy presence. He wouldn’t break down weeping for her. He wouldn’t try to think of comforting words.

That at least was nice.

“It’s so stupid,” she said softly, “to mourn the inevitable. I knew there was no cure. I was the one who insisted Maximus send away all the doctors and miracle workers. I knew…” She couldn’t quite suppress the sob that rose in her chest.

She covered her open mouth with her hands and gulped quite awfully, shuddering.

His hand was in her hair, bending her head to his chest, letting her rest there as the tears soaked his shirt. One of his pistols pressed quite uncomfortably into her cheek, but she really didn’t care at the moment. She wept until her face was hot and wet, until her nose was stuffy, until her eyes felt as if they had been sprinkled with sand. When she at last subsided, she could hear the thump of Captain Trevillion’s heart, steady and strong, beneath his chest.

“It’s a little like death,” she whispered, half to herself. “We all know that we’ll die someday, but believing it is another thing entirely.”

For a moment the hand still in her hair tightened painfully. Then it was gone, smoothing over her shoulder instead. “You’re far from death, my lady.”

“Am I?” She twisted her face upward, toward his. “Isn’t this like a small death? I cannot see light. I cannot see anything.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, his voice like gravel, grating and rasping and yet, somehow, comforting as well. “I’m sorry.”

It sounded…as if he truly cared.

She frowned, opening her mouth to ask, and heard the door to the town house open. “Oh, goodness. Who is it?”

“Powers, coming to fetch you,” he replied.

She straightened at once, touching her hand to her hair, attempting to put it to rights. She must look ghastly. “How do I look?”

“As if you’ve been weeping.”

His stolid answer surprised a laugh from her. “I know I look a fright, but you might at least lie.”

“Do you really require lies from me?” His voice sounded…tired.

She frowned, opening her mouth to reply.

“My lady, the dressmaker is here.” That was Powers’s voice, and quite close.

“Drat,” Phoebe muttered, distracted. “We’ll have to go in.”

“Indeed, my lady.” He was as unemotional as ever.

Still she pressed her fingers into his arm as he led her back to the house. “Thank you, Captain.”

“For what, my lady?”

“For letting me soak your shirt with salt water.” She smiled, though it was harder than usual. “For not giving me platitudes. You’re quite right. I don’t need lies from you.”

“Then I shall endeavor to give you nothing but honesty,” he replied.

Which was a perfectly respectable answer, and yet still it made her shiver. She thought suddenly of her family’s description of him. Handsome. Dashing. Strange, she’d never considered Trevillion as a man who might be attractive. He was simply there. A massive shape at her right side keeping her from balls and outings, always on the alert to stop any fun.

Except that wasn’t quite true, she chided herself guiltily as they made the stone steps. Trevillion had been quite comforting as she’d fallen apart.

He’d been a friend. She’d never considered him a friend before…and if she had that wrong…

Well.

Perhaps that wasn’t the only thing she had wrong about her guard.