Elizabeth Thornton - [Special Branch 02]

BOOK: Elizabeth Thornton - [Special Branch 02]
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LAVISH PRAISE FOR THE BOOKS OF ELIZABETH THORNTON

STRANGERS AT DAWN
“An out-of-the-ordinary murder mystery set in the early 1800’s with lots of suspects and a lovely romance.”
—The Dallas Morning News

“With her talent as a superb storyteller, Elizabeth Thornton skillfully blends suspense, murder, and a powerful love story into a jewel of a book.”
—Romantic Times

“Thornton has been a longtime favorite thanks to her well-told tales of intrigue peppered with sizzling romance, and
Strangers at Dawn
is among the best.”
—The Oakland Press

WHISPER HIS NAME
“Thornton creates appealing characters and cleverly weaves in familiar Regency settings and customs.”
—Publishers Weekly

“Ms. Thornton has delivered. This is a terrific book from cover to cover. The dynamic plot and characters will thrill and delight. Bravo!”
—Rendezvous

“Thornton scribes another terrific tale that sub-genre fans will take immense pleasure reading. The action-packed story line is a thrill a page without scrimping on a warm romance. Very highly recommended.”
—Harriet Klausner

“A dynamite read … with gem-like characters, action-packed adventure and a romance to set your blood boiling.”
—The Belles and Beaux of Romance

YOU ONLY LOVE TWICE
“This book is an absolute joy to read. I loved every minute of it! We are given humor, a murderer, sensuality, scintillating dialogue, and characters to cheer for. What more could you want?”
—Rendezvous

“If you love mystery, murder, and mayhem along with your romance, then
You Only Love Twice
will be your cup of tea.”
—Romantic Times

THE BRIDE’S BODYGUARD
“Cleverly plotted intrigue.”
—Publishers Weekly

“This witty Regency romance/mystery will keep you up all night.”
—The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“A rich, satisfying blend of suspense and passion.”
—The Brazosport Facts

MORE PRAISE FOR ELIZABETH THORNTON

“Elizabeth gives you delicious stories filled with mystery, sensual romance, and dynamite characters. I have been reading this woman’s wonderful stories for years and years. I hope she never stops writing.”
—The Belles and Beaux of Romance

“Fast-paced and full of surprises, Thornton’s latest novel is an exciting story of romance, mystery, and adventure … a complex plot that exuberantly carries the reader. Thornton’s firm control of her plot, her graceful prose, and her witty dialogue make
Dangerous to Kiss
a pleasure to read.”
—Publishers Weekly
on
Dangerous to Kiss

Books by
Elizabeth Thornton

Almost a Princess
The Bachelor Trap
The Bride’s Bodyguard
Dangerous to Hold
Dangerous to Kiss
Dangerous to Love
The Marriage Trap
The Perfect Princess
The Pleasure Trap
Princess Charming
Shady Lady
Strangers at Dawn
Whisper His Name
You Only Love Twice

PRINCESS CHARMING
A Bantam Book / February 2001

All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2001 by Mary George.
Insert art by Franco Accornero.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. For information address: Bantam Books.

eISBN: 978-0-307-80296-5

Bantam Books are published by Bantam Books, a division of Random House, Inc. Its trademark, consisting of the words “Bantam Books” and the portrayal of a rooster, is Registered in U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and in other countries. Marca Registrada. Bantam Books, New York, New York.

v3.1

In the warmest appreciation to my two mentors,
my editor, Wendy McCurdy,
and my agent, Robin Rue.

Contents
Prologue

London, March 1816

S
he was afraid to open her eyes, afraid that he would be there, watching her. She had no illusions about his capacity for violence. She’d become a threat to him. He had to get rid of her.

How much had she told him?

The words echoed inside her head like a silent scream. It took a long time for the sound to fade. She mustn’t panic. She had to think things through. How much had she told him? She couldn’t remember.

When she tried to swallow, a blurred memory crystallized and came slowly into focus. He’d locked her in her room and subdued her by forcing her to drink from the goblet in his hand. Laudanum. She’d ingested laudanum. That explained why her head ached and her throat was dry.

She breathed slowly, deeply, willing herself to come fully awake. Her eyelashes fluttered, but they were like lead weights and she couldn’t lift them. But her senses were taking other impressions: the soft feather mattress beneath her; the windowpanes rattling; the hiss of the rain.

The rain. She remembered the rain. It was raining
when she and Gracie crept out of the house under cover of darkness. They had a boat waiting on the river. That’s how they were going to escape. But he’d unleashed the dogs, and she knew she would never make it.

“Go!” she’d screamed at her terrified maid. “He mustn’t find you with me!” But the wind whipped the words from her mouth. She tried again. “I can’t make it! Tell Lady Octavia she’s the only one who can help.” She pointed to the river and gave Gracie a shove, then veered toward the gazebo. In the dark, the dogs had followed her scent, and her husband and groundsmen had followed the dogs.

How long ago was it? Two days? Three? A week? She couldn’t remember.

She’d planned it so carefully, every step of the way. It had taken her a month to set things up—the boat, the hiding place, money to live on until her attorney had settled everything. But before she could get away, her husband had found out about her friends at the library and had confined her to the house.

She’d defied him anyway, but she’d lost. And when he’d caught her, the questions had begun.

“Why?” he’d asked her over and over. “Why now?”

His lips were pulled back in an expression that was reserved for her only. In government circles and in his clubs, her husband was known for his affability and charm.

“I don’t know.”

“It’s those women at the library you belong to, isn’t it? They put these ideas in your head.”

“No.”

He’d grabbed her arm then, and dragged her to the mirror. “Look at yourself,” he sneered. “You’re an old woman. You’re pathetic. You’d never survive without someone to look after you. You have no money. How did you think you would manage? Who was going to help you? Who? Who? Who?”

His words registered, but barely. She was looking at her reflection as if she were seeing a stranger. The hollow-eyed woman who stared back at her was old, with stooped shoulders and a frail, defeated expression on a face that had once been considered beautiful.

This pathetic old woman had not fulfilled the promise of the young girl whose portrait hung above the white marble mantel in the dining room in Rosemount House. At eighteen, she’d had a sparkle in her eyes, and looked out at the world with all the confidence of youth. She hadn’t known then that she was cursed. She was an heiress, and in the games men played, that made her a pawn.

He hadn’t finished berating her, and as the ugly words spilled over, something inside her snapped. There was more to her than this cowering creature in the mirror, and if there wasn’t, she might as well be dead.

So she’d told him, not everything, but enough to wipe the sneer from his face. She’d told him about the portrait, told him she could ruin him if she wanted to. Then she’d tried to make a bargain with him: if he would let her go, she would take her secret to the grave.

What a fool she’d been to try and make a bargain with the devil. She was going to take her secret to the grave anyway. He was too close to achieving all he’d worked for to let a mere woman stand in his way.

She’d been afraid so many times that she thought she knew everything there was to know about fear. But this was different. She’d involved others, and if he discovered their names, they, too, would pay the penalty for her sins.

Footsteps sounded in the corridor, his footsteps, and at last her eyes opened.

When the key turned in the lock, she pulled herself up. A strange calm possessed her. She’d been a sniveling coward all her married life. This was one fight she wasn’t going to lose.

Chapter 1

W
hen Gwyneth turned the corner into Sutton Row and saw the curricle stationed right outside her front door, there was no sense of foreboding, no premonition that Jason Radley was about to enter her life again. This was just another ordinary day. She’d spent the morning at the Ladies’ Library in Soho Square, where she worked three mornings a week, and she’d stopped off on the way home to buy a loaf of bread. She was late and was hurrying home so that she could share the midday meal with her young son before her first piano student of the day arrived.

Then she saw the curricle.

There was no alarm on Gwyn’s part, only the fervent hope that the father of one of her pupils had come to settle his account. When she approached the curricle, however, and observed the groom standing by the horses’ heads, she frowned. He was dressed in a maroon frock coat with silver frogging on the epaulets and turned-back cuffs.

The Radley livery. She’d know it anywhere.

As her heart picked up speed, her steps slowed. She wasn’t ready for this; she would never be ready for this. As soon as the thought occurred to her, she
became impatient with herself. She’d known when she’d come to live in London that there was every chance she and Jason would cross paths. It had happened sooner rather than later, that was all.

Her heart was beating fast when she entered the house. It was a modest two storey, and the front parlor also served as the music room. Because her home was also her place of business, she’d taken care to create a good impression on the ground floor. The entrance hall and front parlor were furnished with her best pieces and the only carpet she possessed. The rest of the house was Spartan—bare floorboards and odds and ends that served their purpose. There were no extras. She couldn’t afford extras.

Her maid, Maddie, came out of the kitchen when she heard the front door open and close. She took the loaf of bread from Gwyn and helped her with her coat. Maddie was no more than fifteen, as neat as a new pin, good-natured and capable. She wasn’t a live-in maid, but shared her services with Gwyn and an elderly lady who lived around the corner in Soho Square. Gwyn couldn’t afford a live-in maid.

Maddie’s eyes were avid with curiosity. She spoke in a whisper. “There’s ever so fine a gent waiting to see you, Mrs. Barrie. A Mr. Radley. He said he was your cousin. I showed him into the parlor. I hope I done right.”

BOOK: Elizabeth Thornton - [Special Branch 02]
5.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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