Lady Tempts a Rogue
Daughters of Desire (Scandalous Ladies), Book Seven
He’d wanted a mild flirtation… Instead, he got a marriage of convenience.
• Marriage of Convenience
• Friends to Lovers
• Rags to Riches
• Hero Rescues Heroine
• Redeemed Rogue
• Forced Proximity
• Destined to be Together
• Love Reforms the Hero
• Class Difference
They’re running from the one thing they should be running to…
Unapologetic rogue Devin Everingham led a charmed life. Sadly, those days are behind him. Now that his meddling mother has demanded he marry, he has but one option. Escape. Visiting the overseas business ventures he inherited from his father will give him exactly what he needs. Until an extraordinary woman stumbles into his life and makes him question every choice he’s ever made…
Trinity Ablethorne accepted her spinster status long ago. Traveling the world at her employer’s expense is more thrilling than romance could ever be. Unfortunately, getting stranded in a plague-ravaged foreign country changed all that. Now, only a marriage of convenience to the devastatingly handsome Devin can save her. But accepting his offer doesn’t mean she’ll allow him anywhere near her heart…
Devin and Trinity soon learn just how quickly a simple business arrangement can fall apart when actual feelings begin to grow. The only question remaining now is if they can stop running away from love and allow themselves to build a happily ever after together…
Release Date: February 14, 2023
Chapter One Excerpt
Life is an unpredictable, mysterious journey, is it not?
After having spent several years traveling with Mrs. Westcott, I vowed I would remain in England thereafter. Convinced that I had seen and experienced all that any soul could desire, I was committed to putting down roots and settling into a comfortable, predictable life.
And yet, within a few short months in my most recent position as a companion to an elderly dame who was content to stay home except for attending church, I became so restless, bored, and malcontented that I leaped—yes, very nearly leaped about, clapping my hands, and giggling as if I was queer in the attic—when the opportunity presented itself to travel once again.
Tomorrow night, I set sail for the Mediterranean as a companion to Mrs. Eustacia Peagilly. I do not know when I shall return to England, but I promise to write as I have always done. Do remember me in your prayers, for Mrs. Peagilly, despite her advanced years, is a bold adventurer at heart, and I expect many exciting challenges in the months ahead.
~Miss Trinity Ablethorne, in a letter to her girlhood friend, Mrs. Purity Mayfield-Rutland
19 October 1818
Daunting Duchess’s foredeck
Ten minutes past nine P.M.
Here I go again, off to who knows where and for God only knows how long.
The tiniest pang of regret tightened Trinity’s throat and cinched her heart before she squared her shoulders, lifted her chin, and pressed her lips into a firm line. No regrets. This life of adventure, possible peril, and assured excitement was far better than the mundane, safe, and secure—boring as Hades—existence of the past few months.
Perhaps she would have been contented if she were married and had a family…
Stomping a foot, she gave one sharp shake of her head to dispel that wayward thought. At nearly six and twenty, the quixotic but impractical girlhood dream of a husband, four children (two boys and two girls), and a cozy cottage at the shore had been shoved far back on a cupboard shelf. The door had been firmly shut and the key turned in the lock, then tucked away so that temptation would not lure her into peeking inside from time to time to see what might have been.
This was her life, and she had a straightforward choice: to accept her fate or bemoan it.
Practical, resilient, and intrepid, Trinity chose the former.
Come, she chided herself, always one to face self-pity and discouragement with logic and stoicism.
You have much for which to be grateful.
How many women of humble origins have traveled as extensively as you?
Have eaten the rich, tantalizing foods of many cultures?
Have laughed (and also gasped) half in awe and half in astonishment at foreign entertainment and unique customs?
A gull landed on a nearby piling. Head cocked, the gray and white creature observed the tumult aboard the ship and then turned its tiny, black button eyes on her. The wind ruffled the bird’s tail feathers, and it flapped its wings twice.
“Shouldn’t you be tucked snuggly in your nest?” she asked the inquisitive bird. “Or wherever birds of your kind sleep?”
The gull flapped its wings again and took flight, circling above her once before gliding toward the chimney stacks a few streets away.
Pulling the hood of her serviceable woolen cloak farther over her head to prevent the breeze nipping at her cheeks from making her ears ache, Trinity scanned her gaze over the scruffy crew bustling about the deck with practiced skill before shifting her regard to the much less active East India Docks below.
This time of night, the wharf was vacant except for a trio of loudly singing, obviously pished sailors, a pair of scantily attired ladies of the evening—both revealing a shocking display of bare legs and voluptuous bosoms—and a tired appearing fellow, knitted hat pulled low over his forehead as he hunched into his jacket and lumbered down the long expanse.
From somewhere nearby, bawdy laughter, the lively strains of a fiddle, and more slurred singing carried seaward on the tangy river breeze.
Cleaner and less malodorous than several of the other docks Trinity had visited over the years, the East India Docks’ pungent odors would, nevertheless, put off a less stalwart female.
Many a beau monde dandy too, she would wager.
The recipient of raw sewage and other equally noxious substances, the River Thames reeked to high heaven. Not enough to compel Trinity to cover her nose with her crochet-edged and lemon-water-scented handkerchief tucked into her inside cloak pocket but enough to prevent her from totally filling her lungs with the fetid air.
Realizing that she held each breath a second or two, Trinity released her current partial lungful in a small whoosh that created a miniature vapor cloud. Making a rueful face, she chuckled at her silliness. Sailing in October wasn’t ideal, but she’d spend the winter in warmer climes, and that was much preferable to England’s drizzly, bone-penetrating dampness.
At the docks’ far end, a rickety hackney drawn by a sway-backed horse trundled along the cobbles, its wheels echoing hollowly in the gray, fog-shrouded atmosphere. A black cat darted in front of the coach, its tail pointed straight as it fled an invisible foe.
Not superstitious or given to frightening easily, Trinity nevertheless could not stave off the shudder scuttling from her waist to her nape and then padding across her shoulders like a kitten tiptoeing on a prickly bush.
A deckhand yelling an ear-burning curse dragged her attention back to the commotion around her.
A wry grin pulled her mouth upward at the sides.
These past years, she had acquired knowledge of vulgar vocabulary that would cause Mrs. Hester Shepherd, the proprietress of the foundling home and school where Trinity had spent her childhood, to blush crimson.
Having been raised to be a proper lady, Trinity had never let such uncouth expletives pass her lips. But should she ever require a hardy curse guaranteed to make one’s ears burn, she could summon several creative and physically impossible expletives with no effort whatsoever.
That she did not understand what half of them meant was of no consequence.
The Daunting Duchess—such a regal name for a rather nondescript frigate—sailed in less than an hour at high water.
Trinity’s attention drifted toward the dock.
Odd that the captain had not ordered the gangway removed yet.
Weren’t all the passengers aboard?
A tendril of hair that had escaped her neat chignon tickled her cheek.
Frowning, she brushed it aside.
Late this afternoon, when she and Mrs. Peagilly—presently enjoying a cup of ginger tea to stave off seasickness—boarded the vessel, Captain Horatio Breckett mentioned that seven other passengers also sailed to Morocco.
Trinity’s girlhood friend, Faith Kellinggrave, and her new husband, Lord Constantine, were to have voyaged on the ship too. Unfortunately, Lord Constantine’s father, the Duke of Landrith, had suffered a serious riding accident, causing the postponement of Faith’s wedding trip until he recovered.
Besides two businessmen, Amos Truman-Shelton and Lawrence Meriwether, Trinity had met the diplomat, Sir Godfrey McKinnick, his wife, Martha, and their two freckle-faced children, Gladys and Georgie—a thumb-sucking little chap still in short pants.
That left one passenger unaccounted for, though they might’ve boarded before Trinity and Mrs. Peagilly and, if a poor sailor, tucked themselves into their berth for what might be an unpleasant day or two or three.
Trinity had suffered horrid malaise on her first ocean voyage, but never again, thank God. Such was not the case for everyone, and she was most grateful her body had somehow adjusted to the sea’s churning and bobbing so that sickness never afflicted her again. She’d truly thought she would die those first several hours and pitied those suffering seasickness for days on each voyage.
Earlier, when Mrs. Peagilly assured Trinity she could spare her company, her employer had also vowed that as long as she drank ginger tea, she would not succumb to nausea.
Trinity glanced to where the full moon hung in the sky, but given the almost eerily fine mist shrouding the horizon, the distant orb only managed a faint, silvery glow. The captain must be confident the haze would lift or, at the very least, disperse as they headed out to sea.
Trinity certainly hoped so.
She did not want the rolling fog to steal her last view of England’s shoreline or obstruct the glittering stars above. The nocturnal lights appeared much more vivid and ever so much closer over the ocean than on land.
She’d always considered celestial navigation an extraordinary skill. Had she been a man, she might’ve pursued a life at sea. Years ago, she had borrowed a book from Glen Furrows, the sailing master on the Liberty June, about navigation using the stars. Scrunching her nose, she tried to recall the thin tome’s title, but memory failed her.
Hunched into her wrap, a comfortable Kersey woolen shield against the evening’s permeating chill, she staunchly determined not to go below until England’s shoreline disappeared—which might be far sooner than she liked given the uncooperative weather, dash it all.
During the first couple of years traveling the Continent and other marvelous locales with her first employer, Mrs. Wescott, Trinity had enjoyed herself immensely. For certain, at the onset, she’d been homesick for England, but orphaned and raised in a foundling home, Trinity had no one waiting for her or anyone who cared about her, other than a few friends from her time at Haven House and Academy for the Enrichment of Young women.
Mrs. Wescott provided Trinity, a girl of unimpressive origins, with an opportunity of a lifetime. While Mrs. Wescott had preferred frequenting traditional and popular tourist sites, Mrs. Peagilly was a whole other precocious and tenacious creature. Far more adventurous and less attached to creature comforts than Mrs. Wescott, Mrs. Peagilly relished the unexpected and scintillating adventure.
Those were her own words.
Once, the courageous woman had found a juvenile, four-foot python asleep on her cot.
“I had left the tent unfastened, you see,” Mrs. Peagilly recounted. “And the poor thing found a cozy place to curl up and take a snooze away from the elements.”
Trinity doubted her response would’ve been as sympathetic as Mrs. Peagilly’s.
No matter their size, snakes were unpleasant, scaly, clammy, slithery creatures.
Was slithery a word?
The shudder that rippled over her this time was not from the cold.
Trinity had despised snakes for as long as she could remember. An encounter with a hissing, three-foot grass snake while playing in the garden when she was five had sent her shrieking into the orphanage. It had been months before she entered the garden or walked in the grass again. To this day, she would not venture into grass taller than her ankles.
And yet, here Trinity was headed to Morocco, home to puff adders, horned vipers, cobras, and boas.
Yes, but that did not mean she needed to venture into the nasty creatures’ habitats.
She put a gloved finger to the dimple in her chin. Mayhap she should acquire a pistol, or at the very least, a stout stick—a large, very stout stick.
A mélange of heady expectation and sensible wariness wrestled for dominance as she considered what experiences she might encounter with her new employer.
“We need to move the gangway soon, Cap’n, else we shall miss the tide.”
Trinity half-turned toward the speaker, Thaddaeus Compton.
The second mate—a ruggedly handsome chap in his late thirties or early forties—clasped his hands behind him as he rocked back on his heels.
“It’ll be tricky enough navigating the river with this pea soup fog,” Mr. Compton said.
Scanning his keen gaze over the pier, Captain Breckett puffed out his pewter gray bewhiskered cheeks, then gave a stern nod.
“Wait five more minutes, Mr. Compton. Not a second more.”
The clip-clop, clip-clop of a horse approaching captured Trinity’s attention. The hackney lurched to a bumpy stop before the Daunting Duchess’s pier.
“At last.” Relief riddled the captain’s two clipped words. “I was not positive he would make it, and sailing without him would’ve put me in a”—he sent Trinity a covert glance— “deuced smelly kettle of fish.”
So they had been waiting for a passenger.
A very tardy and mysterious passenger.
Whomever they were, they must be important, indeed, to cause the captain to tarry until the last minute—the last five minutes—that was.
“I do not know why you waited on the bloody blighter.” Contempt for the inconsiderate passenger permeated Mr. Compton’s tone. He swerved his deep brown-eyed gaze toward Trinity.
“Beg your pardon, Miss Ablethorne.”
“’Tis of no consequence, Mr. Compton.”
Trinity waved away his apology.
He knew as well as she did that she would hear much worse on the voyage. In fact, the captain’s kettle of fish was no doubt for her benefit—to spare her tender sensibilities. The only way for women to avoid crude speech on a ship was to remain in their cabin with cotton stuffed in their ears, and that she had no intention of doing.
Snapping his timepiece shut with a portentous click, Captain Breckett glanced upward at the mainmast, where an agile young man clambered up the stout pole, and then to the foremast, where another sailor in a navy peacoat secured an encased lantern.
“Because, Mr. Compton,” the captain said with a side-eyed glance and a subtle jerk of his chin toward the newcomer, “he is one of the ship’s owners.”
“I beg your pardon, sir.” Mr. Compton dipped his square chin. “I meant no disrespect.”
Trinity was quite certain he had meant exactly that.
The captain merely grunted, and the second officer wended his way to the foredeck.
To better observe the ramshackle vehicle below, Trinity pushed her hood back a few inches. Not wishing to appear a snoop or busybody but unable to contain her curiosity, she lowered her head and peeped through her eyelashes.
One of the owners, hmm?
Wasn’t that interesting?
Then why the hired hack?
Something was not quite right.
A tall man jumped out, a bulging satchel in his gloved hand. Covered from head to toe in a dark cape, he sprinted effortlessly up the gangway. The instant he set foot on deck, the men responded to a silent signal from the captain and scrambled to detach the gangplank. A bell tolled, announcing the ship’s imminent departure.
The mysterious man, his features hidden in the hood of his black cloak, gave Captain Breckett a terse nod. Though Trinity could not see his eyes, she was certain his attention veered to her for an instant just as the wind whipped off her hood.
He visibly stiffened, causing the captain to send her a speculative glance before the ship’s owner disappeared below deck. He had not spoken a word.
Without a doubt, someone had prearranged the owner’s arrival.
Why the clandestine nature and secretiveness?
The captain and the first officer, Jack Alderton, a Scot as short and squat as Mr. Compton was tall and lithe, shouted orders. Men scurried hither and yon, and Trinity tapped her forefinger to her mouth as the Daunting Duchess slipped from her moorage.
Who was the enigmatic passenger, possessing power enough to delay the ship’s sailing?
There were so many possibilities.
Did he even sail under his real name?
Which begged the question, why?
Well, Trinity had weeks to find out.
She always enjoyed a good puzzle.
As she pulled her hood over her head once more, she recalled his sudden rigidness when he’d seen her.
Did that mean he recognized her?
Now there was an interesting notion because, other than a single house party when she had first returned to England and tea on one occasion at Dr. and Joy Morrisette’s, Trinity had not been anywhere other than services at St. George’s with Mrs. Templemore.
Somehow, the latter seemed the least likely of the trio.
That left the tea and house party.
No, that left the house party. An intimate affair, the tea had consisted of a few close friends. This furtive fellow had not been amongst them.
Though tempted to follow the mysterious stranger below, Trinity resisted. He was not going anywhere, and she would not deprive herself of this last glimpse of England. Besides, what would she do?
Linger outside his cabin like a demented ninny?
A grin teased the corners of her mouth as she rested her elbows on the ship’s rail.
What might’ve proved a rather unexceptional voyage had become decidedly more intriguing.