Kiss a Rake at Midnight | COLLETTE CAMERON
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Kiss a Rake at Midnight

Chronicles of the Westbrook Brides, Book 7

A dashing Londoner’s world is rocked by the discovery that a captivating woman disguised in male clothing is working at his gaming den, leading to a risky romance amidst class struggles and hidden threats… 

Fletcher Westbrook, a dashing figure of wealth and wit, enjoys the luxuries of Regency London, blissfully unaware of the storm brewing around him. As sabotage and danger threaten his world, an unexpected twist leaves him stunned — Siobhan Kenney, the supposed boy he employed, is not only a woman, but a stunning one whose very presence challenges his well-guarded heart. When her true identity unravels after a fainting spell, Fletcher’s initial fury gives way to intrigue. Why would a woman go to such lengths?

Compelled by desperation, Siobhan Kenney adopted a male disguise, seeking employment and refuge in the heart of London. Her life as an Irish immigrant wasn’t easy, especially after her parents vanished, leaving her the sole guardian of her younger siblings. Masquerading as a boy offered protection and opportunity, but exposure threatens everything she’s built. When Fletcher proposes a daring plan, Siobhan is trapped between her need for safety and the tantalizing allure of forbidden romance. As they seek to unmask their mutual adversary, sparks of passion ignite a fire neither anticipated.

Will the perils of their world, from class distinctions to lurking enemies, quench the flame flaring between them, or will the intense allure of opposites drawing closer prove too powerful to resist? Dive into the tempestuous world of Regency London and find out if love can truly conquer all.

Kiss a Rake at Midnight 43

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See What Readers Are Saying

★★★★★ “This was a quick-moving story with adventure, intrigue, great characters, a shocking plot twist, and a heck of a love story.”  ~ Kristi Hudecek Ashwill

★★★★★ “A lovely novella the chemistry between Fletcher & Siobhan sizzles plus there’s danger & mystery – I loved it”  ~ Janet

★★★★★ “I found myself instantly wrapped up in the emotion and excitement of this tale, and just could not put it down. Loved it!”  ~ Jayne Butcher

★★★★★ “Great read with some intrigue, mystery with lots of passion and love too.” ~ Nanna

★★★★★ “There were a few twists and turns that had me on the edge of my chair. I couldn’t put this story down. Well done!” ~ iread

★★★★★ “An engaging and enjoyable story with great characters. There is danger, mystery, some twists and a surprise or two, and romance.”  ~ Peggy

★★★★★ “Oh so good! This story has multiple twists and turns, wonderful characters and some simply enchanting moments.” ~ Jcb

★★★★★ “This author has again written another spell binding story to keep your attention. Excellent read. Would strongly recommend to everyone.” ~ Rose

★★★★★ “Well-crafted scenes provide clarity and emotional depth, which breathes life into the characters and draws the reader deeper into the pages.” ~ Lana Birky

 

Kiss a Rake at Midnight 44
~ Excerpt ~

 

De la Chance Social Club
London, England
July 1827 – Early morning

As was Fletcher Westbrook’s wont, he walked through his social club’s now silent and empty rooms with a cup of strong coffee. Tonight, like every other night, the place would teem with glittering guests eager and, in some cases, desperate for a few hours of entertainment.

Caution and wariness tempered the sense of pride that accompanied these daily inspections. Someone had slipped a threatening note beneath his office door last night.

The first such secret message in months.

“Bloody, sodding hell.”

Fletcher swore beneath his breath before blowing on the scalding, sweetened brew and taking a bracing gulp. Nothing suspicious had occurred since last March when Torrian Westbrook, his cousin and a private detective, had apprehended the offender responsible for setting two fires, as well as sabotaging and vandalizing Fletcher’s enterprises and sending other ominous letters.

The culprit, Mike Prescott, a low-end gaming hell competitor, hadn’t appreciated Fletcher’s scruples or losing elite customers to the classier, and quite frankly safer, establishment. Prescott had grown careless, hence his apprehension and imprisonment.

As Fletcher stood in the card room with its dozens of round tables, black Italian marble fireplace, and the occasional cobalt blue and gold striped damask settee, he pondered this unwelcome and unfortunate turn of events. He honestly believed he’d put that troublesome annoyance behind him for good.

Until last night.

His half-brother, Leonidas, and the only Westbrook besides Fletcher and their cousin Torrian Westbrook, who knew the whole situation, believed the harassment was over too. So much so the deliriously happy scoundrel had married Fletcher’s new Scottish bookkeeper and currently enjoyed a honeymoon in the South of France.

Perhaps Fletcher had grown lax—let his guard down too soon.

But why shouldn’t he have done?

Convicted of attempted murder, arson, and a half dozen other crimes, Prescott rotted away in Newgate.

One thing was for certain.

He couldn’t be behind this latest episode.

So, who was?

Perchance, Prescott hadn’t acted alone as he vowed, and his accomplice had become emboldened once more.

Mouth tight, Fletcher searched his memory for unfamiliar faces when he’d made his final surveillance of the club last evening, just before midnight. The mental inventory did little good. New club members were as numerous and common as pigeons in London.

What set De la Chance and his other establishments, Ivories & Aces and The Emporium Theater, apart from other gaming dens and men’s clubs was Fletcher’s strict, unrelenting vetting of members as well as absolute intolerance for known cheats, rakehells—present company excluded, of course—and randy men on the prowl making overtures toward Fletcher’s female employees.

He employed over twenty of the best bodyguards in London to ensure the women remained unharried and the premises were as impenetrable as a cloistered virgin nun behind convent walls. Yet, somehow, someone had managed to not only sneak onto the grounds, but they’d found their way undetected to the private quarters on the club’s other side.

Unlike many gaming hells, his upper rooms weren’t available for liaisons with bit o’ muslins on his payroll. Fletcher never had and never would employ prostitutes.

It must’ve been a guest who breached his inner sanctum.

But who?

Why hadn’t one of his security team seen them?

Fletcher’s nape hair stood on end, alerting him that he wasn’t alone.

Slowly, he rotated toward the card room’s entrance, prepared to defend himself with the ugly knife sheathed at his waist. Upon recognizing the small form sauntering through the opening, adorned on either side with heavy royal blue draperies held in place by a thick gold silk cord, he blew out a relieved breath.

Sean Kenney, a perpetually cheerful, if somewhat small and frail Irish lad of all work, gazed around the room with the chairs overturned on the tables that he was tasked with returning to the floor each morning. Unlike most of the club’s other employees, Sean and a few others who tended to more menial tasks weren’t required to wear all black.

Today, his delicate features wan, the lad seemed tense and distracted.

Nevertheless, he touched two slender fingers to his ever-present flat tweed cap.

“Good morning, sir. Howya today?”

“I am well.” Physically, yes. But unrelenting worry niggled in the back of Fletcher’s mind. He must find the culprit before things became dangerous once more. He took another sip of coffee. “Yourself?”

He’d learned long ago that when he took a genuine interest in his personnel, not only did they work harder, but Fletcher could, with a great deal of accuracy, determine which of them would become loyal, long-term help. Consistency among his employees proved essential to keeping his establishments running smoothly.

What he couldn’t determine at this moment, however, was Sean’s age, though if Fletcher hazarded a guess, he’d suppose the lad was in his late teens. Perchance sixteen or seventeen.

Small for his age, likely due to malnutrition, the youth often conducted himself and spoke like someone older and more mature. His eyes often held a world-weary glint, and fine lines sometimes bracketed his mouth, suggesting he’d experienced much hardship in his short life.

Fletcher rubbed his nose with his free hand.

Reading people had come naturally to him for as long as he could remember—nearly his entire life. The ability was as ordinary as breathing. Much like his interest in medicine had been, which had compelled him to become a physician, only to leave the field disenchanted and haunted over a decade ago.

He’d always admire and respect the individuals who made the profession their life’s work. For him, the heartache of watching infants and children die despite his best efforts took a toll that seared his mind, scarred his soul, and left him drowning in defeat. It nearly drove him mad or to the bottle, hence his departure from the vocation before becoming an ape-drunk lunatic.

His expression downcast, Sean shifted his feet and covered a wide yawn.

“The truth is, sir, I’m knackered. My sister kept me up most of the night. Kimber’s sick with a nasty cough.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, Sean.” Fletcher scratched the back of his neck. “Does she need a physician?”

Sean hesitated for half a second before shaking his head.

“Nae. I think it’s just a summer cold. I left broth and a tonic. Paddy promised to keep an eye on her.” Sean raised a thin shoulder beneath his much too-large black coat. “Forgive my rattling. I’d best crack on.”

“Paddy is your brother?” Fletcher also made a point to learn something about his employees’ families—those that had families. Many didn’t, and it was truly sad knowing they had no one except fellow employees who often became their surrogate family.

“He is.” Strong and wiry, Sean pulled the gold velvet cushioned ebony chairs off the closest table with practiced efficiency. “Turned twelve last month. Kimber is almost eleven.”

A wonder the two children hadn’t been forced to find jobs as was the usual practice among the lower classes—probably due to Sean’s diligence in providing for them.

It couldn’t be easy for him.

Had Fletcher ever seen the lad without his coat or hat?

Even in July, the boy wore a plaid muffler around his neck.

In medical school, Fletcher had taken a few psychology courses. He suspected the boy’s outer garments acted as protection from more than the elements.

“Did you know I used to practice medicine?” Fletcher finished his coffee and set his cup on one of the tables. “I could look at your sister if you wish.”

Impossibly paler, Sean turned huge dark-blue eyes fringed with such lush lashes that women might become jealous.

“No, sir. That wouldn’t be right. I know how busy you are. I’m sure she’s on the mend already.”

Fletcher understood Sean’s distrust. Likely ashamed of his living quarters, the lad also probably didn’t have a penny to spare to hire a physician. The boy had no doubt learned the hard way that favors often came with strings attached.

Perhaps Fletcher would give the lad more responsibility, requiring a pay raise. Though he hadn’t been at De la Chance long, only since the end of April, he performed his duties with diligence and cheer.

Mayhap he could tend to the hats, cloaks, coats, and other items for the members? Currently, a maid did so, but profoundly shy, Sally preferred working in the kitchen.

Sean would require a uniform for his promotion, of course.

An advancement was something to consider.

Fletcher had permitted Bernicia Dough, the head cook, to send leftovers home with the boy since he supported himself and his two younger siblings. Sean never mentioned parents, and Fletcher could only assume there weren’t any, whether due to death, abandonment, or perhaps incarceration.

Or perchance the children had fled an abusive home as Primrose McKessick—now his brother Leonidas’s wife—had done. Sadly, that often proved the case in London’s seedier neighborhoods, where poverty, unemployment, and alcohol often led to violence.

In any event, sending along food and other supplies wouldn’t put Fletcher out of business. The world was cruel to orphans without resources.

“Good morning, Mr. Westbrook. Sean.” Fred Brindlecombe, the concierge, poked his head around the corner before continuing to the front counter without waiting for a response.

Smiling, Fletcher patted the boy’s thin shoulder and couldn’t help but notice his fine bones. He was much frailer than he let on and undernourished too.

Fletcher made a mental note to tell Mrs. Dough to add extra bread, cheese, meat, and milk to the supplies she sent home.

“At the very least, I can have Mrs. Dough prepare her infamous tincture and a poultice.” When Sean opened his mouth to protest, Fletcher shook his head. “I shan’t take no for an answer, and if your sister does not improve, promise me you’ll allow me to look in on her.”

Though Fletcher no longer practiced medicine, he could diagnose perfectly well and obtain and pay for a physician if the child needed one.

“Yes, sir.” Though Sean nodded, his guarded expression revealed he had no intention of accepting the offer. Nonetheless, Fletcher would persist for the child’s sake and his staff’s lest the illness prove contagious.

Fletcher turned to leave but pivoted back toward the boy.

“Sean? What time did you leave last night?”

Most people never took notice of the boy, moving about the club like a silent shadow. He might’ve seen or heard something untoward.

Tilting his face upward, Sean scratched his head. “About ten, I think. Maybe a little earlier. It was just after the fancy gent in the red coat arrived. The one with a ruby the size of my thumb in his neckcloth.”

“Lord Huxley?” A self-important dandified coxcomb if ever there was one.

Artemus Fogwell, the Viscount Huxley, and his wife’s presence had been a bit of a surprise. Huxley, the pompous windbag, had shown a decided interest in De la Chance several months ago—well over a year ago, in truth—but last night was the first time he’d graced the club with his presence until closing.

Surely, it was a coincidence that an ominous letter appeared afterward.

Wasn’t it?

Fletcher made a mental note to apprise Torrian of that interesting detail.

“Notice anyone suspicious wandering around the private quarters?” Fletcher planted his hands on his hips.

“Sorry, sir.” Sean shrugged again, causing his coat to brush the tops of his knees, one of which bore a neatly stitched patch. “But I left through the kitchen like I always do.”

Of course Sean had. So he could collect the leftovers and the biscuits Mrs. Dough baked for the youth and his siblings.

“Very well.” Fletcher narrowed his eyes, skimming his focus over the boy.

Perspiration dotted Sean’s cheeks.

The lad didn’t look at all well.

“Are you feeling quite the thing, Sean? I shan’t dock your pay if you need to go home and rest.”

“Not a bit of it, sir.” Sean pasted a bright smile on his pallid face as he placed chairs around the tables. “You can count on me.”

Morry Chandler, Fletcher’s head of security and second in command, strolled into the main gaming salon, his expression inscrutable. Wiry and bearing a scar on his forehead that paralleled Chandler’s right eyebrow, Fletcher trusted him implicitly.

“A word, Mr. Westbrook?” He slid the boy a brief glance. “Privately.”

That didn’t portend well.

Hopefully, Chandler might have information about the mysterious leaver of threatening notes.

Fletcher nodded as he crossed to Chandler.

“Do let me know if you see or hear anything out of the ordinary, won’t you, Sean?”

“Aye, sir.” His cheeks unnaturally flushed, the boy ducked his head.

The last thing Fletcher needed was for the lad to spread whatever ailed his sister and quite possibly himself amongst the other employees. Despite Sean’s reluctance, wisdom decreed Fletcher ought to take the boy home and check on his sister.

Yes. That was what Fletcher would do—right after finding out what Chandler couldn’t or wouldn’t say in front of the boy.

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