Authors: Julie Johnstone
Bargaining with a Rake
Copyright © 2012 by Julie
Cover Design by Tammy
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For my husband for
putting up with the long hours.
For my children for
putting up with my distraction.
And for the original historical
critique group ~ Amy, Gayle, Heather, Jerrica, Jodie, Michelle and Tammy.
Without your guidance, encouragement and help I would have been lost.
Table of Contents
The Year of Our Lord 1817
Lady Gillian Rutherford was either
going to faint or scream.
The chatter of the crowd roared in
her ears. She blew out a frustrated breath and snapped her fan open. Whoever
had been in charge of the guest list at this ball had been deep in their cups
when they sent out the invitations. The guest list was too large by half.
A booted foot crushed her toes,
proving her point. “Beg pardon, my lady.”
Gillian smiled at the footman as she
plucked a glass of lemonade from his tray. “Think nothing of it.” Beads of
sweat dripped from his forehead.
. At least she could take
refuge on the terrace in the cool breeze. Except, of course, not just yet.
As notes of music picked up in volume
and somewhat drowned the hum of gossip, she glanced longingly at the open
double doors. Four gazes met hers at once. She cursed herself for forgetting to
avoid the stares of the pinch-faced matrons who’d been less than adept at
hiding the fact that they were talking about her. Instantly, gloved hands
covered whispering mouths.
She hid her snort behind her fan. If
these were Society’s finest, then she would rather consort with the poor any
day of the week.
This would not do. Not at all
. If she stuck to this tactic of
finding her prey, the ball would be over before she knew it. Why was this so
difficult? She craned her neck to see around a large man in need of a good
lecture on the wisdom of not over indulging in sweet meats and pies. How hard could
it be to locate an American who was supposed to be a good head taller than the
She turned to search through the
crowd once again; her effort was rewarded with a new set of stuffy matrons
giving her quizzical looks.
. At least she seemed to be improving in Society’s
esteem since open disdain no longer lingered on their faces. She pasted on a
fake smile as she scanned the lords and ladies.
Where was the blasted American? Maybe
Mr. Sutherland was on the terrace. He was supposed to be brilliant, after all. Surely,
a man smart enough to build a shipping empire would seek refuge from the
oppressive heat in this over-stuffed room.
She didn’t need any further excuse to
get fresh air. Almost giddy with the thought of escape, she swiveled toward the
terrace and cringed.
. Her father stood directly in her path to
How utterly typical
Yet, for once, his disapproving stare
was not focused on her. She followed his line of vision past her Aunt Millicent
to the champagne-laden tray passing just out of his reach.
Blessed be the
ton and their need to display their wealth and frivolousness
blessed be Father for being predictable
, even if the predictability did
include drunkenness and coldness.
She was smart enough to know when
retreat was in order. She whirled on her heel and headed in the direction of
the card room. If the gossip sheets were correct, Mr. Sutherland could very
well be in the gaming room. Three steps into her flight she stopped in her
charge and ground her teeth on the terrible words she wanted to say.
Of all the ill luck
. Harrison Mallorian lounged against
the very statue she would have to pass to get to the card room. He brushed a
lock of his white-blond hair out of his eyes and lifted his hawk-like nose as
he spoke to the glazed-eyed gentleman who stood beside him. Luckily, he did not
see her yet.
Mr. Mallorian, with his lecherous
gaze and roaming hands, was the last person she wanted to encounter. She’d
barely escaped being accosted by him the last time she encountered him in the
village, and she’d overheard gossip by the maids that a tavern wench had not
been so lucky.
Gillian’s stomach rolled at the thought.
She’d seen the wench just last week, heavy with child and no husband. But Mr.
Mallorian roamed around without repercussions. The maids said there was no
proof, but it was more than a lack of witnesses. The wench was lower than a
commoner, so her word would never stand against Mr. Mallorian’s.
Between her father and Mr. Mallorian
she was trapped in this room with no escape. Except… She studied the dark
corner where long red velvet curtains covered a window and formed a crimson
puddle on the floor. It was the perfect place to hide until they moved to
She shouldn’t. It was scandalous. The
very idea that she was worried about her name being associated with scandal made
her giggle. Thank goodness, a young fop was now entertaining the staring
matrons, so they had forgotten her for this moment. She’d hate to add
suspicions of lunacy to the taint associated with murder on her first day back
She moved toward the shadowy alcove with
a glance to see if anyone had observed her. For the moment, no one gawked.
Taking a deep breath, she scurried into the dusty darkness.
Her heavy breathing filled the
cramped space. How was it possible that it was hotter in here? What if she
swooned and fell into the crowd? Father really wouldn’t like that. T
would be ablaze with talk
about the Duke of Death’s odd daughter who hid behind curtains at balls. She
could picture the next ball. Gone would be the attempts at hushed whispers and
She and her sister
would be laughed right out of the ballroom. Gillian cared little for herself,
except it would make meeting Mr. Sutherland extremely hard. But to imagine
Whitney being ostracized made Gillian ache.
She gulped down her lemonade and
groaned. Men had to have had a hand in the latest fashion. No woman would have
designed so many layers. The silk suffocated her. Her chemise already clung to
her damp skin. She rubbed her temples. Some escape plan this was. She glared at
the corner that confined her.
Breathing seemed to be harder behind
the curtains. She reached to part the heavy material, but the velvet suddenly opened,
and light from the ballroom split the darkness.
A man plunged
into the alcove and yanked the curtain closed behind him. She drew in a sharp
breath as a warm hand clamped over her mouth.
“No need to scream,” a baritone that
promised nothing but trouble ordered. “I assure you I mean you no harm.”
She pushed his hand
away. “I feel completely better now. I bet all murderers assure their victims
the same thing before slitting their throats.”
“Well, if I was
going to kill you, which I’m not, I certainly wouldn’t do it in the middle of a
ball, and I would kill you with pleasure.”
She frowned at the
odd statement. “Fine. I won’t scream, and you may go.”
“I’m sorry,” the man said in a voice
that indicated he was anything but. “I didn’t realize you owned this curtain.”
“You’re funny. Run along and display
your wit for a debutante that cares.”
“Interesting twist,” he said with a
“I beg your pardon?” She tried to
instill a frosty note of warning into her tone.
“Don’t worry, kitten. I want to play.
You’re the innocent and I’m the pursuer, right?” He grasped her gloved hand. “I
bet you get a hundred marriage proposals this season with that sweet disposition.”
She jerked her hand away. “I don’t
need a hundred.”
man. He’d irritated her into saying too
When his fingers gently glided over
her waist, she jerked away and pressed as far against the window ledge as she
“I like your commitment to the ruse.”
Husky tones vibrated his voice. “Got one special fellow in mind, do you?”
Thank God, it was too dark in here
for this man to see her face. Her cheeks burned from the blood gathering under
her skin. “You’re not very astute, sir.”
“Is he meeting you in here?” His deep
chuckle filled the space at the same moment he brushed her hair back from her
“Stop that!” She slapped at his
fingers, but he didn’t release his hold on her hair. The grind of the strands
between his fingers grated in her ears.
“Good God,” he whispered. “I’m sorry.
I thought you were someone else.”
“And my hair alerted you to your
mistake?” Gillian allowed disbelief to color her words.
“She has short hair,” he ground out.
“It was an honest mistake. I must have the wrong curtain.”
. Still, what was the point of
arguing? Men of the
were lecherous creatures, and this man had just
proven what she had learned years ago. “I’m glad we’ve cleared things up. If
you would be so kind as to quickly leave the way you came.”
I’ll be gone as soon as I can. I
can’t just barge back out there.”
“Worried about your reputation?”
Hands came on either side of her
waist; his warm breath caressed her cheek. “No. I’m worried about the marriage noose.”
With the shock of being so close to
this man, it took a moment for her brain to register what he said. When she did,
she tried to shove him away, but her hand met corded steel. He was certainly no
dandy. And clearly trouble. Trouble, she already had plenty of. “You have no
worries from me. I don’t want to marry you any more than you want to marry me.”
He chuckled, low and deep. “I’m
“Lovely. Now off you go.”
His hands came to cup her face,
shocking her with their warmth. Smooth fingertips touched her eyelids, her
cheeks, and stopped on her lips. Her heart hammered in her ears. His fingers
brushed over her mouth once before her senses crashed back into reality, and
she smacked his hands away.
“What are you doing?”
“Making sure I
don’t know you.
“How could I be following you? I was
here first, you pompous―”
A finger pressed
against her lips. “Ladies don’t curse.”
She brushed his
fingers aside. “And gentleman take their leave when asked.”
“Good point,” he
the curtain once
again. Light washed over his back and head, revealing thick black hair and
outlining broad shoulders. The curtain dropped back into place and covered him
in darkness once again.
“My lady,” he murmured, stepping
toward her until his breath washed over her face once again. He smelled of
whiskey and cigars.
. Strange it didn’t repel her as it did
when her father or one of his drunken friends forced her to endure conversation
Before she could say anything, the
stranger grasped her gloved hand and whisked the shield of material away. His
mouth touched her skin, hot and searing. As his lips left a feathery kiss, her
world tilted and her breath exhaled in a slow hiss. “It was a pleasure to meet
you. I’d wish you luck in the marriage hunt, but—”
“You don’t believe in luck,” Gillian interrupted.
“Wrong. I don’t believe you need it.”
He was gone before she could reply.
She pressed a hand to her pounding heart.
She took a breath and focused on what she needed to do. A quick peek between
the curtains let her know all was safe. She scurried out of the darkness with
her lemonade glass still clutched in her hand.
As a butler passed, she stopped him
and set the glass on the tray. She ran a self-conscious hand through her hair.
She needed to regain her confidence and find Mr. Sutherland. She glanced
around, searching for him. But her search stopped at the sight of a man who
stood to the side of the terrace doors.
He had jet-black hair and broad
shoulders. Something fluttered in her stomach. Was that the stranger from the
curtains? His wink and smug smile left little doubt. Dressed head to toe in
black save his shirt and untied snowy white cravat that hung negligently from
his neck, he appeared every bit as dangerous as he had sounded behind the