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Authors: Olivia Parker

Guarding a Notorious Lady

BOOK: Guarding a Notorious Lady
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Guarding a Notorious Lady

Olivia Parker

Dedication

For my brother, Frankie.

Thank you for carrying me in from the rain,
defending me from my bullies, and for sharing
your secret stash of watermelon candy.

I love you, too.

And for Mom.

Thank you. But I’ll never believe

that you actually like doing laundry.

Contents

Dedication

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

Chapter 18

Chapter 19
Acknowledgments

About the Author

By Olivia Parker

Copyright

About the Publisher

Chapter 1

Lackington’s Bookshop

London

T
here were three activities in which Lady Rosalind Devine considered herself quite the expert.

One: She had a keen eye for fashion and eagerly shared her talent with any young lady in need, often turning veritably invisible wall flowers into quiet beauties with crowded dance cards.

Two:

She

possessed

undeniable

skil

at

matchmaking, her efforts often undetected by the blissful couple.

And three: She could eavesdrop with the practiced ease of a master spy.

That is, if there wasn’t a giant buffoon standing in her way.

Before today, Rosalind had never given much thought to throttling another person, but the idea was becoming more appealing each passing second.

The object of her frustration happened to be the
gentleman
—and Rosalind highly suspected he was nothing of the sort—on the other side of the bookcase who kept blocking her view with his impossibly broad shoulders.

However was she to spy on the couple behind him if he kept moving about?

She was already standing on the fourth rung of the bookshelf ladder, teetering precariously in her slippery soled half boots in order to see past the man.

Just how tall was he?

If she climbed any higher, she would certainly lose her balance. Heights made her dizzy and frightened, and she needn’t be terribly high up at all for it to affect her. She had only ever been compelled to climb a tree once in her life . . . and it had nearly ended horribly.

Closing her eyes briefly, she took a deep, measured breath to steady her nerves—not to mention her temper. The stale, but strangely appealing, smell of paper and ink pervaded her senses.

Surely the man on the other side of the bookcase didn’t intend to be deliberately disobliging, she assured herself. And besides, Rosalind wasn’t one of those females who indulged in exaggerations. Wel

. . . not very often. Usually. Sometimes? All right, quite frequently, actually.

She nodded, convinced now that his shadowing movements were purely coincidental. It was absurd to believe otherwise, she assured herself. He stood there nonetheless, vexing her.

With a viselike grip on the sides of the ladder, she stretched as far as she dared in order to peer over the tops of a row of books on the next shelf over . . .

and blast it if the infernal man didn’t move and obstruct her view again!

Was
he doing it intentionally? How could he know she was spying?

He
couldn’t
possibly know. Besides, for all he knew she could be merely perusing any of the books stacked next to bursting.

But then why was it that every single time she moved her head, he inched over to obstruct her view?

Perhaps he
was
doing it on purpose. And perhaps she ought to put her suspicions to a test. Right now.

Cautiously, she stepped down from the ladder, minding the hem of her pale green day dress. The ladder creaked and snapped with her movements, sounding overly loud in the quiet bookshop. Reaching solid ground, she looked casually up and down the aisle, satisfied no one was watching her.

After scooting the ladder down about five feet, Rosalind carefully ascended the rungs once again, stopping at the fourth—she dared not go much higher.

For the whole of five seconds she had an unobstructed view of Lord Beecham and Miss Honeywel . . . until a tall, dark shadow came to block her range of vision once again.

An angry puff of air blew past her lips, momentarily suspending an errant lock of coal-black hair that dangled above her right eye. Perhaps she ought to give in to her primal urge, dive her hands through the stacks of books and grab him by his loosely tied cravat. After all, he wouldn’t have any time to react.

She held on to the sordid fantasy for only a moment longer, then shook her head. No, no, books would get knocked down in the process and would undoubtedly create quite a clamor. And the likelihood that she was strong enough to do the job was slim. His neck appeared rather sturdy. And truthfully, she really didn’t fancy spending the rest of her life rotting away in Bedlam for a brief moment of madness. Ah, but the idea was ever so tempting—

“Bloated toads they all are!”

Jolting in surprise, Rosalind nearly toppled to the floor. Hugging the sides of the ladder now, she gulped down a scream, a mere squeak escaping her lips instead. The bothersome man on the other side of the towering shelf seemed to jerk in reaction as well.

Their gazes met and held between the books for a second—long enough for her to discern that his eyes were an impossible shade of sparkling gray.

She’d only ever known one other person with such a uniquely colored gaze, but it couldn’t be . . .

Breaking the shared glance, she forced herself to ease her grip on the ladder. Surely she’d find bruises blossoming on the insides of her arms later.

Shaking slightly, she forced herself to look down.

The flaxen-haired Miss Lucy Meriwether stood directly below, fists on slim hips, looking quite put out.

“What is it?” Rosalind asked.

Lucy stared at her mutely, light-blue eyes narrowed, lips pursed. “The wager,” she whispered. “To think of such a thing!”

Rosalind blinked down at Lucy, wondering if the dear girl had lost her mind. For she certainly felt as if
she
had. It had happened so fast, but Rosalind couldn’t seem to shake the memory of those devastating eyes staring back at her. Perhaps he was still glaring at her even now?

Little by little, she turned her head to verify, toying with the idea that she just might reach through and poke him in the eye if he was still there.

But he was gone. Her shoulders instantly relaxed.

Was the tension thrumming through her body from the exasperating man, or was it from being nearly jolted off the ladder by Lucy’s sudden exclamation? It must be the latter. Rosalind fancied herself like a stone when it came to most men. All but one failed to move her to feel anything other than polite regard. And he would never come to London.

Lucy gave a sigh of frustration. “How can you be so calm? Those insufferable nabobs have made a wager with you as the prize. It’s created quite a stir already.”

“Oh, pish,” Rosalind muttered, finally able to focus on what her friend was talking about. “I find it slightly comical and completely absurd.”

Indeed. Upon news of her brother’s approaching wedding trip, madness had swept over the gambling men of London. Apparently with the daunting duke away, the bachelors of the ton decided to play, placing secret wagers projecting themselves the future brother-in-law to the duke.

“It will amount to nothing, I assure you,” Rosalind replied. “Last year they wagered daily on my color of dress. As soon as I found out about it, I made sure to come and go several times a day, changing my clothes each time. After half of one day, they lost track, fought over the validity of the reported hues, and had no choice but to relinquish their game. Utter foolishness.”

“Well, seeing as your family is hosting a ball this evening, perhaps we ought to lament on the sorry state of the available bachelors attending,” Lucy said impatiently. “Or at least
I’ll
discuss it. You seem to be busy flirting with the man in the next aisle.” Rosalind straightened. “Indeed, I was not.”

“You were,” Lucy accused jovially. “I think you must fancy him.”

“I do not,” Rosalind whispered. “I don’t even know who was there.”

Lucy giggled. “Anyway I’m only teasing. Lord knows no one is good enough for you.”

“That is not true,” Rosalind said in her own defense.

“I’m only waiting.”

“For . . . ?” Lucy prompted.

“Well, for my match, obviously.”

“And how do you suppose to find him? You’ve occupied yourself each and every season since your debut doling out fashion advice to newcomers in need and finding them love matches. What if your match is standing right before you but you fail to notice?”

“Then I shal be alone.”

Lucy gave a delicate snort. “A daughter of a duke.

Wealthy, respectable, and
unmarried
? They’ll think you’re mad.”

“Perhaps they’ll think I’m romantic and melancholy,” Rosalind said, forcing a grin, her tone deceptively light.

Lucy raised a golden brow at her remark and began searching in her reticule for something. “Ah, here it is.” She unfolded a wrinkled sheet of paper and grimaced. “It is a list I made of the available bachelors this season. Very thin, I’m afraid.” She clucked her tongue. “What am I going to do? My grandmother said I’m old goods, and Father said I’ve already started to wrinkle around the eyes. Lara claims her husband has a cousin named Eustace, but I’m not sure I like that name. I’ve known two Eustaces and they were both rather . . . well, unclean. Mama said that Lord Kenton will be looking for a bride after his mourning period is over, but that’ll be a year hence, and by then I’ll be even more old and wrinkled and—”

As it was an ongoing, rather tedious subject, Rosalind quelled the urge to groan. Lucy was two and twenty—not ancient by any means, but the women in her family had all married by their nineteenth birthday.

It wasn’t that Lucy hadn’t any proposals; she simply refused them all. According to the Meriwethers, the finicky Lucy might as well don a lace cap and start leading apes. A hasty prediction, Rosalind believed, but perhaps not inaccurate. None of the numerous bachelors Rosalind had suggested had met Lucy’s approval, so Rosalind had learned to simply listen to all of Lucy’s worries with a patient ear and plenty of reassurances.

Before long, Lucy started to scan her list again, murmuring to herself. Rosalind glanced to the bookshelf. With the irksome man gone, she would now have an unobstructed view of Lord Beecham and the young lady. She trailed her fingertips over various leather spines, pretending to peruse the titles.

How wonderful it would be to witness the fruits of her labor, to see these two besotted people finally embrace their fascination with one another.

“However am I to find a proper husband amongst them?” Lucy complained quietly from below.

“The
‘bloated toads,’
you mean?” Rosalind asked out of the side of her mouth, her eager eyes fastening on Lord Beecham as he reached up to take down a book for Miss Honeywell.

“I even danced with Old Lord Utley twice at the Montagues’ little garden party yesterday,” Lucy nearly groaned. “I fear I’m growing so desperate, if he’d managed to get down on his one good knee and ask me to marry him, I just might have accepted.”

“The new Lady Utley would not approve,” Rosalind muttered, unable to help herself.

“Oh, Lord. I had no idea.
He remarried
?”

“Two days ago. Surely you read the announcement in the paper?”

Shaking her head, Lucy threw up her arms in disgust. “Leave it to me to waste an entire evening dancing with a married old man.”

“Shh,” Rosalind implored, trying not to laugh.

“Go ahead and giggle at my expense,” Lucy continued, whispering. “I only wish my brother were a duke. Then I could afford to be picky and enjoy all the attention that comes with it.”

“Don’t be absurd. I cannot abide all their misplaced servility and false adoration. ’Tis not a sincere man amongst them . . .” Her voice trailed off as a man passed in front of the couple. For a second she thought the tall, broad-shouldered man had returned to further vex her, but this particular man kept walking and wasn’t nearly as tall.

“Oh
. . .
my
. Who is that?”

“Who?” Rosalind asked, turning to look down at Lucy. “Who? Where?” Something about her friend’s nearly worshipful tone had Rosalind following Lucy’s gaze down the narrow aisle they were standing in.

At the end, near the enormous circular desk where patrons paid for their books, stood the rude man from before. Rosalind would know the broad expanse of that particular back anywhere. Well, really, she ought to, as she had been trying to see over and around it for the last half hour.

Light spilled from the tall, gleaming shop windows, streaking gold through his tousled deep mahogany locks. His expertly cut black frock coat stretched across his back, pulling tight slightly as he bent to speak to a rosy-cheeked shopgirl.

Whatever he said made the girl giggle, her entire face sparkling with glowing admiration. He dipped his head and turned, his new direction allowing Rosalind to view him from the front for the first time.

Her mouth dropped open.

A rare, lingering grin curved one side of his mouth upward. His jaw was strong; defined, yet strangely elegant. Under dark, straight eyebrows, his eyes were deeply set, and they seemed to smolder with a brooding quality that made it seem as though he regularly stunned the women in his life into awed silence with just one glance.

Tall, broad-shouldered, and tan, he stood out easily amongst the other men shuffling about the bookshop

—an eagle amid a covey of partridges.

Rosalind knew this man. He was their closest neighbor at the ducal seat in Yorkshire and her eldest brother’s closest friend. And she had loved every stubborn inch of this man with every breath in her body ever since the day before her nineteenth birthday.

And he was here, right here. She couldn’t quite believe her eyes.

Seven London seasons—seven
long
years of dutifully traipsing down to the marriage mart all the while leaving the man she loved behind in high country. And now he was here. Why?

Her gaze swept downward. His cravat was slightly crooked, quite like he had slipped his fingers in the top of the knot to ease its hold on his neck. She supposed he wasn’t accustomed to dressing thusly.

Nicholas Kincaid was a reclusive country gentleman. His usual dress was composed of loose white shirts rolled up to his elbows and snug breeches tucked into tall, scuffed boots. But even in those simple clothes he exuded coiled strength and nearly overwhelming virility. Of course, on the occasions he had come to dine with her family at the castle, he had dressed in a more formal manner, but nothing like this.

BOOK: Guarding a Notorious Lady
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