The Earl of Morrey - Lauren Smith - E-Book

The Earl of Morrey E-Book

Lauren Smith

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Beschreibung

Letty Fordyce knows three things about her future husband:


Lord Morrey is a dangerous man.


He frightens her.


She desires him.


Adam Beaumont, The Earl of Morrey, is full of dark secrets. His brooding and mysterious allure draw women to him like moths to a flame. But he fears he can never marry, not when his secret life is full of constant danger.



Letty doesn't want to be like other women, she wants a life for herself and a happy marriage to a respectable man, not someone with secrets like Lord Morrey.  Yet from the moment she meets the charming rogue and he steals a kiss, she can't think of anyone else. 



When a night of terror sends her into Adam's arms, she'll be forced to choose between the life she thought she wanted and the man she's falling in love with.


 

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The Earl of Morrey

The League of Rogues - Book 14

Lauren Smith

Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Epilogue

The Earl of Brecken

Other Titles By Lauren Smith

About the Author

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Copyright © 2021 by Lauren Smith

The League of Rogues ® is an officially registered federal trademark owned by Lauren Smith.

All rights reserved. In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher constitutes unlawful piracy and theft of the author’s intellectual property. If you would like to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), prior written permission must be obtained by contacting the publisher at [email protected] Thank you for your support of the author’s rights.

The publisher is not responsible for websites (or their content) that are not owned by the publisher.

This book was previously published in 2014 by Samhain Publishing. This is a republication of the original version.

ISBN: 978-1-952063-30-5 (e-book edition)

ISBN: 978-1-952063-31-2 (print edition)

1

Excerpt from the Quizzing Glass Gazette, September 10, 1822, the Lady Society column:

My darling ladies,

I have returned to bring you the most delicious gossip. It must be noted that the existence of a certain club has recently reached my attention, one called the Wicked Earls’Club. Only the most wicked of titled earls are said to be members. Naturally, my mind has run away with thoughts of a most dangerous nature. Who belongs to this club, and do you already know them? Is the politeearl you danced with last night at Lady Allerton’s ball all that he seems? Is there more to the tall, dark-haired gentleman who tipped his hat as he rode past you in Hyde Park this fall?

I am mist. I am moonlight. I am the smoke of an extinguished candle. I am the shadow you do not see, but only feel . . .

Adam Beaumont, the Earl of Morrey, let the words of his private mantra flow over and through him until he believed them to be true. As he moved through the crowded ballroom of Lady Allerton’s home, the words worked a subtle magic. They rendered him nearly invisible to the husband-hunting ladies prowling around him, their matchmakingmamas leading the hunt. Given that he was an unmarried, young, and attractive gentleman with a title, that was quite a feat. If the ton knew what sort of man he truly was, those young women and their mothers would not be so eager to snare him.

He swept his gaze over every face in the packed ballroom, seeking that cunning gleam in a pair of eyes or an overly observant glance in his direction. He listened carefully for clever discussions designed to collect information best kept hidden.

A loaded pistol would have been a welcome companion tonight, but he could not conceal such a cumbersome weapon on his person. No, the only friend he carried tonight was the slender dagger pressed flat against his chest beneath his waistcoat. He dared not risk a dance, lest the blade dislodge and become a danger to him.

If only the ton knew what sort of man stood in their midst. A man whose job was to end any threat to the Crown. An agent of His Majesty who worked to keep the monarchy safe,as well as to protect the kingdom from foreign threats. He was the knife in the dark that claimed the life of anyone who came here to do his nation harm. It was a burden Adam had never wanted, but he had been given little choice.

Many thought that wars started and ended on the battlefield, but Adam knew the darker truth. Wars began in drawing rooms and ballrooms, where men let down their guard and becometargets for spies and assassins. He’d learned that after losing his friend Lord Wilhelm. It had been two years sincehe’d watched a French spy take the life of his dear friend.

John Wilhelmhad struggled with a French assassin on a bridge over the Thames. Adam had been too late to stop the man from plunging a knife into John’s back, butJohn had taken the murderous bastard with him over the bridge and into the dark, swift waters below. Adam had rushed to the spot where his friend had gone and leapt over the side into the water himself. The fall had nearly killed him,andit had been for naught. He’d searched the water for what felt like an eternity before finally crawling up the bank and collapsing in exhaustion.

As he lay gasping for breath, a man Adam had seen once or twice before at social engagements had emerged from the darkness and rushed to help. That was the night Avery Russell,the man who would become London’s new spymaster a year later, had recruited Adamto the Court of Shadows.

After the previous spymaster, Hugo Waverly, died last year, Avery had taken control and restructured the spy network. Many of the older spies had retired, and fresh blood like Adam had been brought deeper into the ring.Adam promised himself he would have his revenge upon John’s killers, for as Avery had taught him, French agents worked in pairs, a master and his loyal left hand. Adam did not know which one had perished in the river with John, the master or the left hand, but he would someday find out. Becoming a spy was his penance for being too late to save his friend that night.

A quiet voice broke through Adam’s dark thoughts.“Morrey?”

James Fordyce, the Earl of Pembroke, his new brother-in-law,came to his side. He was a fellow member of the private Wicked Earls’Club and had recently married Adam’s halfsister, Gillian. He and James had a passing acquaintancethrough their membership in the Wicked Earls’ Club. There were only a handful of members he’d been close enough to get to know in the last few years.

Adam hadn’t been particularly active in the club or pursuing any rakish wickedness of late. He’d been preoccupied with matters of England’s security.

But that didn’t mean England had been the only matter on his mind. He’d been searching for his long-losthalfsister who’d been working as a lady’s maid in London,and that had brought him deeper into James’s circle of friendship, for which he was grateful. He trusted the man with his secrets in ways he couldn’t trust anyone else.

“Pembroke, good to see you,” Adam replied.

James had been the only one to notice him tonight. One of the few who wereable to see past Adam’s ability to disappear into crowds whenever he wished to.

“Is Caroline with you? Gilly was hoping to see her.” A silent question lurked in James’s dark eyes, as if he wanted to ask what had Adam on edge.

“No, not tonight.” He had convinced his sister Caroline that there would be other balls this week to attend. Once he’d informed her that he had a mission to fulfill tonight, she’d understood the dangers and thankfully had remained home.

“Should Gilly, Letty, and I leave?” Pembroke asked as he and Adam stepped deeper into the shadows at the edge of the ballroom.

“Yes, I would if I were you, but be calm about it—let no one suspect anything. Tonight the devils are among us.” It was the warning he had devised with Pembroke to let the other man know when danger was close at hand. Pembroke was not a fool. From the time they’d first met, James had sensed that Adam was more than merely a titled lord searching for his long-lost halfsister. So without putting James too much at risk, he’d let the man know that he worked for the Home Office in some secretive capacity, though he never went into details unless lives were at stake.

“Right. Well, I see Gillian but not Letty. She must have gone to one of the retiring rooms. I’ll go and fetch her.”

Adam was only partially listening. He’d caught sight of a woman leaving the ballroom, with another woman upon her arm.

Viscount Edwards’swife, Lady Edwards, the woman he was to protect this evening, was leaving the safety of the ballroom with a dark-haired woman whose face he could not see.

“Find your sister and go, quickly,” he said to James beforehe slid through the crowds now gathering in rows to begin a dance. The pair of women vanished at the doors on the far end,andAdam’s fear spiked. Lady Edwards was in grave danger. Her husband had lately been an ambassador to France, and Avery had recruited her to be a spy while she was on the Continent, as he and the Home Office worked in connection with the Foreign Office. She had memorizeda verbal cypherthat she was to give Avery this very evening, and it was Adam’s duty to make sure no one silenced her before she could relay it.

Adam reached the partially open doorway leading out of the ballroom and stepped into a dark corridor. He pressed himself against the wall and moved swiftly from door to door, checking for the presence of Lady Edwards and her unknown companion.

“Hold still. Do not move,” a soft, alluring voice said close by. “Be very still,Lady Edwards, lest I prick you. We wouldn’t want that.”

Christ, he was too late. Some foul French wench likely had a stiletto blade pressed to Lady Edwards’s throat.

Adam’s hands curled into fists as he moved toward the doorway where he’d last heard the voices. He reached up to undo the first two buttons of his green waistcoat and slid his dagger free. Still concealed by the edge of the doorframe, he drew in slow, steady breaths.

“Be still, I say!” the feminine voice commanded.“I don’t wish to hurt you.”

Lady Edwards began to beg. “Oh, please, do have mercy on me. I—”

Adam didn’t wait another second. He shot around the doorframe and into the room, running straight for the feminine figure in a dark-blue silk ball gown. He caught the woman around her waist with one arm and jerked her back against his chest while he held his dagger to her throat.

“Make a sound and you will not live to regret it,” he warned in a harsh whisper. The woman in his arms gasped and went stiff with terror.

“What?”Lady Edwards spun around. Her hands flew to her mouth.“Lord Morrey, what are you doing?” Her blue eyes were wide with fear.

He gave the spy in his hold a tighter squeeze, and she wriggled in his arms.“Saving you, my lady.”

“She’s not a spy!” Lady Edwards insisted in a frantic whisper.

“She had you at her mercy—I heard her,” Adam said.

“Don’t be silly. My hair came undone. She was putting the pins back.” Lady Edwards held a pair of jeweled hairpins up for him to see. Diamond-studded pins glittered in muted lamplight as the reality of the situation sank in.

He’d made a grave error.

Still holding the woman captive in his arms, Adam slowly lowered the blade. Her breath quickened as though she’d been too afraid to breathe the last few seconds. As he released her, he caught her wrist to keep the woman from fleeing until this matter was settled, and she was sworn to secrecy. She turned to face him, and this time he was the one who forgot to breathe.

Letty Fordyce, James’s little sister, a beauty he had admired—desired—from afar these last few months, was his frightened captive. He released her wrist,and she pulled free. She retreated to the safety of Lady Edwards.

“Lady Leticia,” he greeted in a gruff rumble barely above a whisper.

The dark-haired beauty held a hand up to her neck and gazed at him in terror.

“Oh, Letty, I’m so sorry.” Lady Edwards grasped the young woman’s shoulders and tried to soothe her.

“What . . . ?” Letty stared at him. “Why?”

“We haven’t time,” Lady Edwards said to her. “Morrey, have you seen Mr. Russell?”

“I haven’t. I fear something may have happened to him.”

“I must give you the message, then,” Lady Edwards murmured.

“No, not me. I am no messenger,” he reminded her.“I was only meant to protect you.”

He was not one of those spies who played with coded messages and costumes on missions. He was a harbinger of doom, a hand of death for those who tried to harm his country.

“He must be told tonight, Morrey,” Lady Edwards said.

“What are you talking about?” Letty had finally found her voice. “Why did he hold a knife to my throat?”

“I’m sorry, Letty, dear—not now. We haven’t time—”

A creak on the wood floor outside the retiring room made Adam spin around. A pistol barrel, half-illuminated, was aimed straight at them.

He launched himself at the two women, tackling them to the ground.

The crack of the pistol made him flinch as he hit the floor with the women beneath him. A moment later, he rolled off them and leapt to his feet, blade at the ready, but whoever had fired upon them had fled.He charged into the corridor, seeking any sign of where the assailant had gone.

The crowd in the distant ballroom soon turned to chaos as someone screamed about a pistol being fired. Half a dozen men ranin his direction, and Adam ducked back into the retiring room. Lettyseemed to have collected herselfand was assisting Lady Edwards up off the floor. Letty was pale,but she wasn’t weeping or fainting dead away. She was no wilting rose, and for that he was glad.

“Did you catch them?” Lady Edwards asked as she brushed out the wrinkles in her gown.

He shook his head. “A crowd is gathering, searching for whoever fired that pistol. You must go at once, my lady. We cannot be seen together.”

The lady spy nodded and rushed to the open window that led into the gardens outside. Thankfully, they were on the first floor, and Lady Edwards could drop three feet onto the grass outside. She gathered her skirts and slipped through the opening, vanishing into the darkness beyond.

“Godspeed, my lady,” Adam said as he closed the window behind her. Then he turned toward Letty.

“Lord Morrey, what—?”

“Lady Leticia, I’m sorry about this.”

“About what? What just happened? Why did you hold a knife to my throat?”

“I’m sorry about the fact that I have to kiss you now.I cannot be seen in here alone, not if I wish to avoid being connected to that pistol.”

Letty’s eyes widened as the sounds of the men in the corridor grew louder.“Why can’t you be seen alone? Wait . . . kiss?”

He swept Letty into his arms, holding her tightly to him. And he claimed her parted lips with his. She drew in a shocked breath as he kissed her soundly.

Lord, the woman tasted sweet, too sweet. At any other moment he would have gotten drunk on her kiss. But he kept his focus on the closed door,waiting for the moment it would burst open. When it did, he purposely held Letty a moment too long, making sure the men who’d entered the room saw the girl was quite clearly compromised.

“Good God, it’s Morrey!” one man said. Another man called out for Adam to let the girl go.

Adam stepped half a foot back from Letty, his hand still possessively gripping her waist, implying that they had been about to make love. Then he faced the men and dropped his hold on the poor young woman whose reputation he had just put the proverbial bullet through.

“Morrey, what the bloody hell do you think you’re doingwith my sister?” James demanded. He started toward Adam, vengeance in his eyes that Adam knew would likely end up with his face a bloody mess if this matter was not resolved.

“I . . .” Adam struggled for words as he pushed Letty behind him, keeping her well out of harm’s way, lest her brother take a swing at him. He’d given Lady Edwards a chance to escape, but now he was to face an entirely different peril that he could not escape.

“We heard a pistol go off,” a man said in confusion. Adam recognized him as Jonathan St. Laurent. “We feared something had happened. We thought it came from this room.”

“I can’t say I heard anything—I was rather preoccupied,” Adam said with a rakish grin. He’d become a good actor in the last two years, showing only what he wished and hiding what he needed to.

“That much is clear,” Jonathan snorted, his gaze fixed on Adam’s chest.

Adam reached up to touch his waistcoat and realized the two buttons he’dundone to free his dagger were still out of their slits. It painted the situation with Letty in an even worse light because it looked as though he’d been in the process of removing his waistcoat.

“We should let Pembroke handle this,” another man in the party said. “She is his sister,after all.”

“Yes, leave him to me,” James growled. “Continue your search.”

The other men left the room, leaving James alone with Adam and Letty.

Pembroke closed the door, trapping Adam in the room with him and Letty. “Morrey, what the bloody hell happened?” James demanded, his eyes straying to his sister, who stood nearly silent behind Adam. “I thought you told me to leave because you were up to something dangerous, and then I find you kissing my sister. I expect there to be a damn good explanation for this.”

Adam saw the hurt and fury in James’s eyes. He had every right to assume the worst. Adam would have, had he been in James’s place.

“There is, but I cannot explain here. It may not be safe,” Adam replied.

James rubbed his closed eyes with his thumb and forefinger. “You’re telling me that what happened tonight was connected to . . . ?”

“Yes.” Adam saw that what he was carefully conveying to James was finally sinking in. “And you know what it means for her.” He nodded his head toward Letty.

“I know . . . but I can help her weather the scandal. It doesn’t have to end the way you expect. I won’t force that upon her, not if she doesn’t want it.”

“Unfortunately, I think you must.” Adam kept his tone quiet. “I’m the only one who can protect her. She’s been seen, James. Before the night is through, she’ll have been made as one of mine, and she will not be safe.”

James’s eyes widened and then narrowed as he looked between his sister and Adam. Yes, the man was finally coming to understand what Morrey was saying.

“Then we must make a few decisions, mustn’t we?”

“We must,” Morrey agreed.

“The sooner the better,I suppose?”

“Yes. I’ll go to the Doctors’ Commons tomorrow. We can tell everyone we had a secret understanding and plan to marry within a few days.”

“It will be enough.” James sighed heavily. His reluctance to agree to this plan was obviously still strong.

“Wait—marriage?” Letty suddenly seemed to realize what they were speaking about.

“Yes, you and Morrey. Immediately.” James glanced at Adam, an apologetic look in his eyes.

“James, you can’t—”

“Letty, after what happened tonight, there are reasons that require you to comply with this decision. You know I would never want to force this, but you must trust me. This is the only way forward that keeps you safe.”

“Safe? Safe from him? This man just held a knife to my throat!”

James shot a startled glare at Adam, renewed worry and anger apparent in his expression.“What?”

“A misunderstanding. I thought she was the threat I’d been sensing. Then the real threat revealed itself and fired. That was the pistol you heard from the ballroom. Whoever took that shot, they saw your sister’s face clearly and likely knew that she’d been talking to Lady Edwards.”

“Christ.” James began to pace the floor of the retiring room. Then he looked at his sister again. “Letty, I’ve never asked you to obey me for any reason, but that changes tonight. You must trust me now when I say you will marry Morrey. All will be explained to you when it’s safe.”

“James, you cannot ask this of me—please. It isn’t fair. You know what I want, and this isn’t it.” It was such a soft plea, a little sister asking her older brother for his love, his trust, his protection. Adam watched in dread as James had to deny his sister what she needed by a simple shake of his head. No decent brother could form words to deny such a plea, and James was a good brother. All he could do was deny her with his actions.

“Yes, it is unfair,” Adam agreed, turning Letty’s attention away from her brother. “And for that I’m sorry, Lady Leticia, but it must be done. Do not blame your brother for this. It is my fault. I bear the blame for it.”

“No.” She shook her head violently. “How can I marry you? I barely know you!”

“Many couples marry knowing each other for less time than we have,” Adam said, keeping his tone gentle. It was clear Letty was still in shock.“Pembroke, allow me to have a moment with her.”

“I should stay.” James’s overprotectiveness would have amused him at any other time.

“Just a moment is all I need.”

“Very well,” James allowed. “But only a moment. My sister has been through enough tonight. I would like to get her safely home before more daggers or pistols come into play.” He stepped outside.

Adam grasped Letty’s hips again, pulling her toward him. The blue silk of her gown was soft beneath his palms, filling him with desire.Yet she wasn’t affected the same way he was. She was trembling, though he could hardly blame her under the circumstances.

“I will explain all that has happened tonight when I can, when it’s safe. Pleaseknow that I’m sorry for how this came about. I will be a good and loyal husband to you. I swear it upon my life.”

Tears gathered in her lovely dark-brown eyes. He reached up and brushed one away.

“Do not cry, please,” he begged. “It will be all right. I promise.”

Then he stole a soft, lingering kiss from her lips. The sort of kiss he wished he’d given her that first time. She went still in his arms, but not stiff with terror as she had been earlier. He nuzzled her cheek and held her close. The poor innocent creature, barely twenty, a full decade younger than him, was to have her life upended all because she’d sought to help Lady Edwards fix her hair. When he moved his face back to look down at her, all he saw was dazed confusion.

“There, there,” he said, his natural need to comfortintensified for this beautiful young woman.

“Do you wish to marry me?” she asked him.

“I had no thought to marry. Not in a long while. But I am glad it will be to you.” It was the truth. He had abandoned the idea of such things the night John had perished. But now Letty had need of his protection,and this was the only way he could be there to protect her at all hours. He felt like a bastard for having a small flare of happiness that a beauty with such a soft heart would be his.From the moment he’d laid eyes upon her, he’d had a fleeting rebellious thought that she would have made him a wonderful countess. Now she would be his countess, and he could not shake his sudden excitement and gratitude at the thought.

“Lord Morrey—” Letty began, but the door opened, and her brother came back inside.

“I have your cloak, Letty. We need to leave. I found Gillian. She’s waiting out front.” James held up a cream-coloredcloak lined with blue silk that matched her blue-and-gold gown. Letty allowed her brother to slip it over her arms, and she buttoned it up with trembling hands.

“Pay a call on us tomorrow, and we’ll discuss the ceremony and the matter of Letty’s dowry.” James held his hat under one arm and nodded brusquely at Adam.

Adam nodded back and watched the pair leave the retiring room. Once he was alone, he searched the chamberuntil hespottedthe small hole in the wall wherethe bullet had struck. He retrieved his dagger and dug the bullet from the wall. He chipped at the hole, scratching it until it looked like the damage to the wall had been done by something else.

He searched the room until he found a chair about the right height, and then he pushed the tip of the chair into the hole. Now it looked as if someone had simply shoved the chair into the wall at an angle, causing the damage.The last thing he needed was proof of what had happened in this room. He needed London society to think that he simply had been lost in passion with Letty, not thwarting a French assassin.

He slipped the bullet into the tiny pocket of his waistcoat and left the retiring room.

Given the tight crowd now at the front door, Adam surmised that there had been a mad dash upon the poor grooms to fetch coaches and horses. Lord and Lady Allerton were attempting to oversee the mass exodus from their home.

“I don’t understand it, Henry,” Lady Allerton murmured to her husband. “A pistol?Why would anyone . . .” She trailed off and wrung her hands in her red satin skirts.

Adam slipped between pacing gentlemen and packs of gossiping ladies until he made it to the front of the line. The next groom who rushed up the steps of the Allerton house was breathing hard and caught Adam’s summoning wave.

“Bring around my coach. The one with the Morrey crest.” He knew all the servants of great households like the Allertons were trained to recognize the crests of the noble houses for occasions such as these.

“Yes, my lord.”

Adam moved out of the hot crush of the crowd and waited outside for his coach to be brought forward. He donned his cloak and climbed inside the vehicle once it was in front of the Allerton house. Then he sat back in the darkness for an instant before he realized something was wrong.

He lunged forward, his dagger pressed against the man’s throat. He would have laughed in triumph at discovering this hidden man, but he felt a second blade pressed against his own throat.

“Easy, Morrey,” a familiar voice chuckled. Adam relaxed, and the weapons were lowered.

“Russell, what the bloody hell are you thinking, sneaking into my coach?” He sat back in his seat and tucked the knife in his waistcoat. Avery Russell did the same. Adam pulled one of the curtains away from the window so that he could better see the spymaster.“Did you find Lady Edwards?”

Avery nodded. “Barely.I saw her escaping from the window after the gunshot. I feared I was too late. We had but a moment to speak in the garden, and I received the message.”

“You almost were too late.” Adam leaned his head back against the cushioned wall of the coach. “Tonight was a disaster.”

“No one was hurt, and Lady Edwards gave me her message,” Avery mused.

“No one is hurt, but I’m now to be married.”

Avery’s eyes widened.“What?”

Adam explained how he’d attacked Letty, and how he’d seen to it that Lady Edwards had the chance to escape safely. Then, to keep suspicion off himself, he’d kissed Letty publicly, making it look as though they’d met for a secret romantic assignation.

Avery fought off a grin. “You’re to marry Pembroke’s sister?”

“Go ahead and laugh,” Adam grumbled.

“I’m not laughing at you, or her. Just the ludicrousness of the situation. Letty is a sweet girl, very intelligent, but not suited to a life of danger,” Avery said with more seriousness.

“I know, but what can I do? The spywho fired upon me tonight had a good look at Letty’s face. They’ll assume she’s working with me or Lady Edwards. Pembroke won’t be able to guard her as well as I can. She’ll be safer being married to me.”

Avery was studying him now. “Marriage won’t be enough. She’ll need you as a protective shadowuntil we can discover who attacked you at the Allerton ball.”

“I plan to be that shadow,” Adam agreed. “I only dread knowing Letty will hate me for it.”

“I believe Letty is due more credit than you would give her.” Avery tapped the roof of the coachwith a fist, and it rolled to a stop.

Adam glanced at the darkened street.“You’re leaving here?”

“Like you, the shadows are my friends.” Avery stepped out into the waiting gloom and soon vanished.

Adam called out to his driver to continue home. He had much to think on and much to plan,including the last thing he’d ever expected to plan—awedding.

2

“Married,” Letty Fordyce muttered for the tenth time as she, Gillian, and James walked up the steps into their townhouse.

“Letty, perhaps we should have that talk now,” her older brother said.

A footman removed her cloak and took her gloves as she turned to glare at her brother. “Talk? James, what is there to say? I barely know the man! What’s more, he grabbed me from out of the shadows and held a knife to my throat! Then he just kissed me like . . .” Letty couldn’t finish.

“Yes, well, I trust you when you say it happened, I do, but there’s more to discuss than . . . knives and kisses.”

“What could be more important than that?”

At this, Gillian spoke up. “Letty, my brother is involved in mattersthat require the utmost discretion. Please allow James to have a moment to explain.”

“Yes, that’s all I ask.”

Gillian put her arm through Letty’s in a show of support as James gestured for them to follow him to his study. Once inside, James closed the door and spoke in a low voice.

“We could not speak of this at the Allertons’ house—it was far too dangerous.”

“Speak of what? I am tired of all the secrecy and whispers!”

Tonight had been both terrifying and confusing,in turn. All she had done was go to the retiring room to help Lady Edwards with her hair. Then Lord Morrey had gripped her from behind and held a knife to her throat. Letty had been frightened, until she discovered it was Lord Morrey. Then he’d pulled the blade away, yet still held her captive by her wrist. A strange and unexpected flare of heat had begun in her lower belly at still being in his grasp. Before she could even process what any of that meant, themisunderstanding had been followed by a very real attack on them by an unknown assailant.

But she had found herself drawn, clearly against her better judgment, to this new and dangerous side of Lord Morrey. She had always thought him undeniably handsome, with his dark hair and flashing gray eyes, and there was such an intense seriousness to him that had been a mystery to her. Letty had seen a different part of him tonight, and she found she liked this new, dark side to the gentleman who had been the focal point of so many of her more stirring dreams at night.

“Morrey is a spy,” James said, still using that hushed tone.

“A spy?” Letty echoed the word, still baffled. “If he is a spy, why would you and Gillian know about it? It seems as though that would rather be kept a secret.”

“Yes, I quite agree, but when I married Gillian, the man took me into his confidence and told me about it, at least in broad strokes. He did not want me to worry, should something happen to him. He wanted me to know that whatever befell him was in the course of his duty to the Crown. I asked his permission to tell Gillian, and he agreed I could, knowing he could trust his sister with the knowledge of his occupation.”

“A spy,” Letty muttered. It didn’t make sense, his secrecy and veiled discussions with Lady Edwards about messages and the way they’d been attacked. She’d been in such a state of shock that she hadn’t yet fully processed what had happened to her this evening.

“His duties are not what you would expect. They are far more dangerous,” James added even more quietly.

Letty waited for her brother to continue.

“He removes threats of a human sort.” James seemed to be wording this carefully, and it did take Letty a moment to unravel the meaning behind it.

“You mean he’s an assassin? He kills people?” she uttered in horror.

“If he must, but only those who attempt to harm others, such as the person who tried to harm Lady Edwards,” Gillian added. “Please believe me, Letty—Adam meant you no harm with his actions tonight. I’m not in agreement with James that you should marry him, but I do ask that you believe me when I tell you he wouldn’t have hurt you.”

She now understood why he had grabbed her, how he’d thought she was the threat to Lady Edwards, but it was all too much to take in. Still, against her better judgment, she would give Lord Morrey credit this evening for being the gentleman Gillian insisted he was.

“He did save my life,” she conceded. “When he saw the pistol at the doorframe, he shoved me and Lady Edwards to the floor and shielded us.” Letty would have to make peace with the thought that she was soon to marry a man who took the lives of others, yet had saved hers.

“Morrey is a good man. Since Gillian and I married, I’ve come to know him better,” James added. “Marriage to him will protect you.”

“From what? I am not a spy,” Letty argued.

Her brother crossed his arms over his chest. “Whoever fired that pistol has great reason to believe you area spy. You were standing in a room with two spies—speaking to them, in fact. It’s not as though you can just disappear to the country for a spell and be safe. You might as well have put your face on every paper and declared yourself working for the Home Office. But if you marry Morrey, he can help keep you safe. He has special skills and talents suited precisely to that duty.”

Letty looked to Gillian, her only supporter in this matter. “But James can keep me safe, can’t he? You know I fear scandal, but I won’t bow to it and wed simply because society dictates it must be so.”

Gillian glanced at her husband before replying. “You know I agree, Letty. But James is right—your reputation is nothing compared to the danger you will face if these spies believe you are important to their ends, which I’m sadly certain they will. My brother wouldn’t have suggested marriage if he didn’t think it was necessary. He never planned on marrying, given the dangers, but now—now he must . . . and you must. Surely marrying Adam isn’t such a terrible fate. He is a good man, a kind man, a fair man, and he’ll keep you safe.” Gillian touched her stomach and looked at James. “If it wasn’t for Gabriel, we would do our best to protect you here, but our son could be put in danger if someone intent on harming you came into this house.”

A crushing sense of guilt settled on Letty’s shoulders. Here she was demanding that James protect her, when she should be thinking of James and Gillian’s new babe. Gabriel would indeed be in danger if someone came here looking for her.

“I am a selfish creature,” she said, acid eating away at her stomach. “You’re right. Gabriel must come first. I am a grown woman. I can take care of myself. James, I will move out of this townhouse tomorrow and find another.”

“Nonsense,” James said. “I’m not going to simply buy you a home to run away to. I am putting my foot down, Letty. You’ll marry Morrey. Do you understand?”

Letty clasped her hands in front of her, staring at the floor. James had never spoken to her like this, like a child needing to be chastised for bad behavior. She wanted to yell and tell him she wouldn’t marry anyone unless she chose to, but she also knew he was right.

Marrying Morrey was the intelligent thing to do. The last thing she wanted was to be seen as a fool which meant she must accept the situation. She was going to be married to Lord Morrey.

And it wasn’t as if she hadn’t daydreamed about that. Ever since they had met, she’d been bewitched by the quiet intensity of his eyes, the sensuality of his full mouth, and the soft but deep rumble of his voice. The man was a mystery cloaked in an enigma clouded by riddles.

“Please, Letty, you can trust my brother to take care of you. I know this all came about suddenly, but give it time. It might yet be the best thing to happen to the both of you,” Gillian said. Letty saw hope burning in her sister-in-law’s gray eyes, eyes so like Lord Morrey’s.

“Gillian . . . is he the sort of man who could . . . could come to love me?”

Letty had few desires in the world that mattered to her so much as to be loved. She had been blessed with looks and a well-to-do family. Her circumstances had made it possible for her to wait to marry. She was fortunate enough that she could wait to find a gentleman who would, in fact, adore her, and whom she could adore in exchange. It wasn’t so silly as wanting to be loved for the sake of needing adoration—it was more complicated than that.

She was a smart woman, and she lived in an age where women were barely above possessions in a man’s eyes. But she clung to the hope that someday her children, especially her daughters, would live in a better time, one where women were equals. Where they would be valued for their thoughts, their knowledge, their education, and not just their looks, money, or birthing abilities. She held her desires for that particular future close to her heart, never letting anyone know.

“He will come to love you.” Gillian clasped her hands, squeezing them. “He knows your value, Letty.”

Gillian had once been a lady’s maid, and she knew better than most that women held value. She understood what Letty had meant.

Letty faced her brother again. “Very well. I will marry Lord Morrey the day after tomorrow.”

James’s shoulders drooped in relief. He came over to her and placed his hands on her shoulders.

“Thank you. I know what this means to you to accept this situation, and I thank you for doing it. It makes me feel like I haven’t failed you, to know that you’ll have the best protection, better than what I can give you.”

This—this was the brother she had grown up with. The man who cared about her, who truly did see her value and believe in her. He was acknowledging that though he’d commanded her to marry, it was still within her power to refuse. Her acceptance had been the right thing to do, and he was proud of her for it. This, above all else, made her want to cry. She was putting away her childish dreams of love and equality with a husband in order to protect her family. It was what women had done for centuries, and she wouldn’t be any different.

“You had better go to bed, my dear. You’ve had a trying evening, and have a long day ahead of you tomorrow.” James kissed her forehead before Letty left the study and headed to her bedchamber. As she climbed the stairs, she tried to arrange the crowded thoughts that tonight’s events had caused. If she was to marry Lord Morrey, she must be a better master of herself, especially her emotions. But tonight—tonight she couldn’t do that. She wished to curl up in her bed and crylike a child, and she hated herself for that weakness.

Her lady’s maid, Mina, was laying out a nightgown and a robedechambre.

“Good evening, m’lady,” Mina greeted her.Mina was from Scotland and had been her mother’s lady’s maid. Since Letty’s mother had passed away, Mina had become almost like a second mother to her.Her dark hair, now threaded with gray, was pulled back in a comfortable but unfashionable bun.

“Mina,” Letty said, her voice suddenly breaking as fresh tears filled her eyes.

“What’s this now, love?” Mina came around the bed to take Letty into her arms.

“I am to be married in two days,” she said.

“Married? What? To whom?” her maid asked, stunned.

“To Lord Morrey.” Letty sniffed, feeling the damnable tears coming.

“Oh, my poor dear. Let’s sit, and you can tell me all about it.”

Letty and Mina sat at the foot of her bed, and she told the maid all that had transpired at the ball and afterward, even the part about Morrey being a spy.

“But you must keep it all a secret, Mina, please.”Letty knew she shouldn’t be telling servants something like this, but she had to talk with someone about it, someone aside from James and Gillian.

“I have never once betrayed you, my lady, and I won’t start now.” The maid gave her a gentle nudge. “Let’s get you undressed. Shall I bring you a glass of milk and a few biscuits, perhaps one of Cook’s tarts if there is one left?”

“Only if it’s not too much trouble.” The hour was late, and she had heard the clock chime in the corridor. She didn’t want to keep her maid up very late.

“For you? Nothing is ever too much trouble.” Mina clucked her tongue in a motherly way and worked at the laces on the back of Letty’s gown. Once Letty wore only her nightgown, she pulled on the robedechambre, leaving the floral-patterned robe open, not bothering to do up the tiny pearl buttons. She eased into her bed, the sheets a little cold, but she would soon warm up with the steady fire burning in the hearth across the room. Mina returned with aglass of warm milk, along with a few biscuits and a raspberry tart served on a blue china dish.