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A Lady of Notoriety (The Masquerade Club)

BOOK: A Lady of Notoriety (The Masquerade Club)
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DESIRED FOR HERSELF ALONE…

When fallen beauty Daphne, Lady Faville, is carried to safety from a rampaging fire, she’s horrified to recognize her rescuer as Hugh Westleigh—a man with every reason to despise her!

But Hugh has been blinded and Daphne must nurse him back to health. Unable to see, he is driven to distraction by her tantalizing scent and gentle touch.

For the first time, Daphne feels truly desired for herself alone. But when Hugh finally regains his sight, will she find forgiveness in his arms?

If Hugh wished to be completely honest with himself he’d admit what was really keeping him awake.

Daphne.

His thoughts were consumed by her. A second kiss with a promise of passion equal to the first had done it. He’d counted how many times she poured herself brandy. Only three times, and all were short pourings, not enough to explain her response to him. No, she’d chosen the kiss with a clear mind.

Had he gone too far? He’d meant only to touch her.

Hadn’t he?

His masculine urges were surging, unleashed by that kiss. She was not far, a few steps. He could find his way. By God, she drew him so strongly, he believed he could find his way even without his cane.

* * *

A Lady of Notoriety
Harlequin® Historical #1192—July 2014

Welcome to
Diane Gaston’s

The Masquerade Club

Identities concealed, desires revealed…

This is your invitation to Regency society’s most exclusive gaming establishment.

Leave your inhibitions at the door, don your disguise and indulge your desires!

A REPUTATION FOR NOTORIETY
Already available

A MARRIAGE OF NOTORIETY
Already available

A LADY OF NOTORIETY
July 2014

Diane Gaston

A Lady of
Notoriety

Available from Harlequin®
Historical and DIANE GASTON

The Mysterious Miss M
#777
The Wagering Widow
#788
A
Reputable Rake #
800
Mistletoe Kisses
#823
“A Twelfth Night Tale”
Innocence and
Impropriety
#840
The Vanishing Viscountess
#879
Scandalizing the Ton
#916
The Diamonds of Welbourne Manor
#943
“Justine and the Noble Viscount”
*
Gallant Officer,
Forbidden Lady
#972
*
Chivalrous Captain, Rebel
Mistress
#1009
*
Valiant Soldier, Beautiful Enemy
#1057

A Not So Respectable Gentleman?
#1101
Born to Scandal
#1117
**
A Reputation for Notoriety
#1141
**
A Marriage of Notoriety
#1170
**
A Lady of Notoriety
#1192

*Three Soldiers
∆Spin-off
from
The Diamonds of Welbourne
Manor
**The Masquerade Club

And in Harlequin Historical
Undone!
ebooks

The Unlacing of Miss Leigh
The Liberation of Miss
Finch

Did you know that these novels
are also available as
ebooks?
Visit
www.Harlequin.com
.

To Catherine, a beautiful friend in all ways

Author Note

Beauty and redemption. Two subjects that continue to fascinate me.

Can people truly change or are their characters fixed for life?

I believe in change. I believe any of us can overcome past mistakes, past weaknesses, past faults, and strive to become better people.

Beautiful people, though, may have a more difficult path than the more ordinary of us. Prized, cosseted, celebrated for their appearance alone, I believe beautiful people have fewer opportunities to face their imperfections. I suspect it is more difficult for them to learn and grow into better people.

In my previous Masquerade Club book,
A Marriage of Notoriety,
a beautiful lady tries to wreck the marriage of a man she’s long desired. As a result she creates a destruction that might have been devastating. Can such a woman learn from that experience? Can she redeem herself? And can any man truly believe in her redemption and love the woman she strives to be inside? Read on and see.

Chapter One

Ramsgate, Kent
—April 1821

‘M
y lady! My lady! Wake up! Fire!’

Daphne, Lady Faville, jolted awake at her maid’s cries. Smoke filled her nostrils and stung her eyes. Shouts and pounding on doors sounded in the hallway of the Ramsgate inn.

‘Fire! Get out,’ a man’s voice boomed.

Fire. Her biggest fear.

Daphne leaped out of bed and shoved her feet into slippers. Her maid began gathering their belongings, stuffing them into a portmanteau.

‘Leave them, Monette.’ Daphne seized her coin purse and threw her cloak around her shoulders. Her heart raced. ‘We must go now!’

She reached for the door latch, but her maid pulled her arm away.

‘Wait! The hall may be on fire.’ The maid pressed her hand against the door. ‘It is not hot. It is safe.’ She opened the door.

It was not safe.

The hallway was filled with smoke, and tongues of flame licked the walls here and there, as if sneaking up from below. In a moment the wallpaper would curl and burn. The fire would grow. It could engulf them.

Daphne saw a vision of another time, another fire. Her heart pounded. Was she to die in flames after all?

‘Keep your skirts away from the fire,’ she cried to Monette.

They moved blindly ahead, down the long hallway, through its fiery gauntlet.

‘Hurry, Monette.’ She took the maid’s hand and lamented asking the innkeeper for rooms that were as private as possible.

Their rooms were far from the stairway.

‘Someone is in the hallway. At the end,’ a man’s voice cried.

Through the grey smoke he emerged, an apparition rushing towards them. He grabbed them both and half-carried them through the hallway past other men who were knocking on doors, and other residents emerging in nightclothes.

They reached the stairway and he pushed Monette forwards. The girl ran down the stairs. Daphne shrank back. The flames below were larger, more dangerous.

‘I’ll get you through.’ The man gathered her up in his arms and carried her down the three flights of stairs. She buried her face in his chest, too afraid to see the fire so close.

Suddenly the air cooled and she could breathe again. They were outside. He set her down and her maid ran to her, hugging her in relief. They were alive! Daphne swung back to thank the man who rescued them.

He was already running back into the fire.

Her footman appeared. ‘You are safe, m’lady. Come away from the building.’

He brought them to where a group of people in various stages of undress huddled together.

‘I must go back to the buckets.’ He looked apologetic.

‘Yes, Carter. Yes,’ Daphne agreed. ‘Help all you can.’

He ran to the brigade passing buckets of water to the fire. Other men led horses out of the stables and rolled coaches away from the burning building.

Daphne’s eyes riveted on the doorway, willing their rescuer to reappear. Other men carried people out, but she did not see him. She’d not seen his face, but she knew she would recognise him. Tall, dark haired and strong. He wore the dark coat and fawn pantaloons of a gentleman.

Finally he appeared, two children tucked under his arms and a frantic mother following behind.

Daphne took a step forwards, eager to speak to him, to thank him. To her shock, he ran towards the door again. One of the other men seized his arm, apparently trying to stop him, but the man shrugged him off and rushed back inside.

Daphne’s hand flew over her mouth.
Please, God, let him come out again.

An older gentleman approached her. ‘Lady Faville?’

She wanted to watch for her rescuer, not engage in conversation.

‘Do you remember me?’ he asked.

She presumed he was someone she’d met in London. ‘I am sorry. I do not—’

He looked disappointed. ‘I am Lord Sanvers. We met several times at the Masquerade Club.’

The Masquerade Club?

It was a place she wanted to forget, the London gambling house where players could gamble in masks to protect their identity. It was also the place she almost destroyed.

By fire.

‘It is two years since I attended there,’ she answered him. ‘There were so many gentlemen I met.’

It was inadequate as an apology. Surely he—and everyone—knew that she’d been obsessed by only one man, a man who would never love her. She’d fled to the Continent and eventually to Switzerland and Fahr Abbey. The abbey had become her retreat and her salvation, chosen by whim because its name was similar to her husband’s title name and the name of the village where she’d once felt secure. At Fahr Abbey, though, she’d come face-to-face with her failings.

But could she change?

Could she be as selfless as her brave rescuer?

Minutes seemed like hours, but he finally emerged again, leading two more people to safety. The fire intensified, roaring now like a wild beast. Were there more people inside? Would he risk his life again?

He ran back to the fire and was silhouetted inside the doorway when a huge rush of glowing embers fell from the ceiling. The building groaned, as if in the throes of death. Timbers fell from the roof and the man’s arms rose in front of his face. Daphne watched in horror as one large flaming timber knocked him to the floor.

‘No!’ Without thinking, she ran towards him.

Other men reached him first, pulling him by his clothing until he was in the yard. The building collapsed entirely.

Daphne knelt down next to him as they brushed away glowing cinders from his coat and patted out smoking cloth.

‘Is he alive?’ she cried.

They rolled him on his back, and one man put a finger to the pulse in his neck. ‘He’s alive for now.’

Daphne gasped. ‘I know him!’

Though his face was dark with soot and pink with burns, she recognised him. He was Hugh Westleigh, younger brother of the new Earl of Westleigh. He was also the brother of the lady she’d so terribly wronged at the Masquerade Club.

Had he arrived on the packet from Calais, as she had? Or was he bound there? Either way, she suspected he would not have liked seeing her after all the trouble she’d caused.

He was not conscious, and that alarmed her.

‘We’d better carry him to the surgeon,’ one of the men said.

They lifted him. Daphne followed them.

Her maid and footman caught up to her. Monette’s eyes were wide. ‘My lady?’

‘I know this man,’ she explained. ‘I must see he receives care. Wait for me here.’

They carried him to what looked like a nearby shopfront. Inside several people sat on benches while one man, the surgeon apparently, bandaged burns.

‘We have a bad one here, Mr Trask.’

The surgeon waved a man off the chair where he’d been tending to him and gestured for the men to sit Westleigh in it. He was still limp.

Daphne wrung her hands. ‘Will he live?’

‘I do not know, ma’am,’ the surgeon said.

‘He was hit on the head,’ she said. ‘I saw it.’

The man checked Westleigh’s head. ‘Appears to be so.’

Westleigh groaned and Daphne released a pent-up breath.

The surgeon lifted his head. ‘Wake up, sir.’ He turned to Daphne. ‘What is his name?’

‘Mr Westleigh,’ she said. ‘He is the younger brother of the Earl of Westleigh.’

‘Is he?’ One of the men who had carried him in raised his brows. ‘Who would have expected it of the Quality? The man has pluck.’

‘Westleigh!’ The surgeon raised his voice. ‘Wake up.’

He groaned again.

‘Open your eyes.’

Westleigh tried to comply, straining. He winced and tried to rub his eyes. ‘I cannot...’

Thank God he could speak.

The surgeon pulled his hands away. ‘Do not do that. Let me look.’ He examined Westleigh’s eyes and turned to Daphne. ‘His eyes are cloudy. Damaged from the fire.’ He tilted Westleigh’s head back and rinsed his eyes with clear water from a nearby pitcher. ‘His eyes must stay bandaged for two weeks or he will lose his sight.’ He shrugged. ‘He may lose his sight no matter what, but sometimes the eyes heal remarkably well. I’m more concerned about his head. He is certainly concussed. He needs to be cared for.’

‘In what way?’ Daphne asked.

‘He needs rest and quiet. No excitement at all. For at least a week.’ He looked into Westleigh’s mouth and in his nose. ‘No bleeding. That is good.’

‘Head hurts,’ Westleigh mumbled.

The surgeon folded bandages over Westleigh’s eyes and wrapped his head to keep them in place. No sooner had he finished than another victim of the fire was brought in, covered with burns. The surgeon’s attention immediately went to his new patient. ‘I must see this man.’ He waved Daphne away. ‘Keep his eyes bandaged and keep him quiet. No travelling. He must stay quiet.’

Daphne dropped some coins from her purse on the table. The surgeon deserved payment.

The man who had carried Westleigh to the surgeon got him to his feet. ‘Come along, sir.’ He turned to Daphne. ‘Follow me.’

He must think she was in Westleigh’s party.

They walked out of the building into a day just beginning to turn light.

Carter, her footman, ran up to her. ‘M’lady, John Coachman found a stable for the horses. He and your maid are waiting with the carriage, which was left near the inn.’

The man assisting Westleigh strained with the effort to keep him upright. ‘Give us a hand, would you?’ he asked her footman. Carter rushed to help him, but the man handed off his burden entirely. ‘I must see to my own family, ma’am.’ He pulled on his forelock and hurried away.

Westleigh moaned.

‘What do I do with him?’ Carter shifted to get a better hold on Westleigh.

Daphne’s mind was spinning. ‘Take him to the carriage, I suppose. We must find someone to care for him.’

Men were still busy at the inn, extinguishing embers, salvaging undamaged items, of which there were very few. Daphne’s and her maid’s trunks had been with the carriage, so they had lost only what had been in their portmanteaux.

Carter and John Coachman helped Westleigh into the carriage.

‘Is he coming with us?’ Monette asked.

‘Oh, no,’ Daphne replied. ‘He would detest that. He must have been travelling with someone. We should find out who.’ She turned to Carter. ‘Can you ask, please? His name is Hugh Westleigh, Lord Westleigh’s brother.’

Westleigh stirred and tried to pull at the bandages covering his eyes.

‘No, Westleigh!’ Daphne climbed inside the carriage and pulled his hands away. ‘You must not touch your bandages.’ She arranged the pillows and rugs to make him more comfortable.

‘Thirsty,’ Westleigh mumbled.

How thoughtless of her. He must have a raging thirst after all his exertion.

‘Monette, find him some ale and something nourishing.’ What ought an injured man eat? She had no idea, but dug into her purse again and handed both her maid and footman some coins. ‘Both of you buy something for yourselves to eat and drink and bring something back for John Coachman, as well.’

* * *

Monette returned within a quarter-hour with food and drink from a nearby alehouse for Westleigh and the coachman.

‘They have a room where we might change clothes,’ she told Daphne. ‘I paid for it and for a meal, so that we can eat privately.’

It was better than eating in the carriage on the street with the smell of ashes still in the air.

‘I’ll tend to the gentleman, m’lady,’ John Coachman said. ‘I must watch the carriage in any event. He’ll be comfortable enough inside, with your pillows and all.’

Monette climbed on top of the carriage and retrieved clothing from the trunks, rolling them into a bundle. She led Daphne to the alehouse, about two streets away.

The place was crowded with people in various stages of dress and from various walks of life, who had all apparently escaped the fire. Daphne followed Monette through the throng. The smell of sweat, smoke and ale made Daphne’s empty stomach roil.

Surely a lady of her stature should not be required to endure this sort of place.

She placed her hand over her mouth.

The words of the abbess at Fahr came back to her.
You must practise compassion for all people, my lady. We are all God’s children.

The dear abbess. The nuns at Fahr had told her the abbess was very old, but to Daphne she’d seemed ageless. For some unfathomable reason the abbess had bestowed her love and attention on Daphne.

Her eyes filled with tears. The woman’s death had been a terrible blow, worse than her own mother’s death, worse than her husband’s. She could not bear to stay at Fahr after such a loss.

At least the abbess’s words remained with her. Sometimes, when Daphne needed her words, it was almost as if the woman were at her side, whispering in her ear.

Daphne glanced around once more and tried to see the people in the alehouse through the abbess’s eyes. Most looked exhausted. Some appeared close to despair. Others wore bandages on their arms or hands.

Daphne ached for them.

More truthfully, a part of her felt sorrow for their suffering; another part was very grateful to have been spared their troubles.

As they reached the door to the private room, a gentleman rose from a booth where he’d sat alone. He was the gentleman who had spoken to her before, who remembered her from the Masquerade Club. What was his name?

Lord Sanvers.

‘My good lady. There you are. I was concerned about you.’ His silver hair was neatly combed and he appeared to have changed into fresh linen. Compared to the others he was pristine.

‘I am unharmed, sir.’

He blocked her way. ‘May I assist you in any way? I am at your disposal.’

He could take charge of Westleigh! Would that not be a better situation for everyone?

She glanced at the booth Lord Sanvers had all to himself and to the numbers of people who did not even have a chair.

Would he have extended his offer of help if she had not been the beautiful, wealthy widow of a viscount?

She curtsied to him. ‘My servants have seen to everything, sir, but I thank you.’

She walked past him and through the open door where Monette waited.

Once inside the room, Daphne collapsed onto a chair in relief.

BOOK: A Lady of Notoriety (The Masquerade Club)
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