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Authors: Meredith Duran

Luck Be a Lady

BOOK: Luck Be a Lady
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Delightful . . . Heart-Pounding . . . Sexy . . . Unforgettable . . .

Savor “romance at its finest” (
New York Times
bestselling author Liz Carlyle) in these ­acclaimed novels from Meredith Duran!

FOOL ME TWICE

USA Today
bestseller

RT Book Reviews
Top Pick

RITA
finalist for Best Historical Romance

“In modern romance, there is still room for the hero that Byron described as ‘that man of loneliness and mystery' . . . It's possible that no one writes him better than Meredith Duran, whose books are as dark and dangerous as the heroes they feature.”

—
The Washington Post

“Meredith Duran unceasingly delights . . . as a wordsmith and a master at understanding the elements that connect complex, genuine, and lovable characters.”

—
Buried Under Romance

“Incredible sensuality. . . . Crazy hot.”

—
Fiction Vixen

“Spellbinding. . . . Meredith Duran's writing is polished and sophisticated.”

—
Books With Benefits

“Engrossing and unexpected, this may be Duran's finest novel yet.”

—
RT Book Reviews

THAT SCANDALOUS SUMMER

RT Book Reviews
Top Pick

“Sophisticated, witty, smart romance.”

—RT Book Reviews

“A powerful story with emotional punch. . . . A joy to read.”

—
The Romance Dish

AT YOUR PLEASURE

RT Book Reviews
Top Pick

A
Romantic Times
nominee for
Most Innovative Romance of 2012

An American Library Association Shortlist selection

“Unforgettable. . . . Rich in texture.”

—
Romantic Times
(4½ stars)

“Fast-paced, heart-pounding . . . a wonderful read!”

—
Fresh Fiction

A LADY'S LESSON IN SCANDAL

RT Book Reviews
Top Pick &
a ­Desert Isle Keeper for
All About Romance

An American Library Association Shortlist selection

“Compelling, exciting, sensual . . . a nonstop read everyone will savor.”

—
Romantic Times
(4½ stars)

“Top-notch romance.”

—
Publishers Weekly

WICKED BECOMES YOU

RT Book Reviews
Top Pick

“Charming and deliciously sensual from beginning to end.”

—
Romantic Times

“Witty, often hilarious, sensuous, and breathlessly paced.”

—
Library Journal

“Sexy, inventive, and riveting, it's hard to put down and a joy to read.”

—
All About Romance

“Rousing . . . delightful . . . heartwarming, with deeply ­affecting emotions.”

—
Single Titles

WRITTEN ON YOUR SKIN

RT Book Reviews
Top Pick & a
Romantic Times

Best Historical Romance Adventure award nominee

“Mesmerizing . . . a glorious, nonstop, action-packed battle-of-wills romance.”

—
Romantic Times
(4½ stars)

“Wildly romantic.”

—
Dear Author
(Grade: A+)

“Everything a great historical romance should be.”

—
Romance Junkies

BOUND BY YOUR TOUCH

A Best Book of 2009 in
All About Romance
's Reviewer's Choice column

“Sophisticated, beautifully written, and utterly romantic.”

—
The Book Smugglers

“A great love story. . . . I found new layers and meaning each time I read it.”

—
Dear Author

THE DUKE OF SHADOWS

Finalist for the
Romantic Times
Best Historical Debut award

“Riveting . . . emotion-packed. . . . A guaranteed page-turner.”

—
The Romance Reader
(4 stars)

“Without a doubt the best historical romance I have read this year.”

—
Romance Reviews Today

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This book is dedicated to Lauren McKenna, a marvelous editor who also moonlights as muse, confidante, ­cheerleader, international strategist, and raconteur ­nonpareil. Working with you is a privilege in countless ways, and an absolute pleasure, always.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

A novel is not truly born until it has been read. And so, in addition to the usual suspects (you know who you are), I gratefully acknowledge those who read my books. Your letters, emails, Facebook posts, tweets, and our rare and wonderful encounters offline never fail to move and inspire me.

PROLOGUE

London, 1866

A
cross the street, in the little park they called No-Man's-Land, two girls were skipping rope. It was a wonderful day to be playing out of doors, Catherine could tell. The sun was very bright on the green grass, and the girls looked happy. When one tripped and fell down, the other pretended to fall, too, collapsing in a laughing heap beside her friend.

Catherine pressed her finger on the windowpane, blocking out the spot where the skipping rope had fallen. Mama said that at the age of seven, she should know better than to skip rope in public. But those girls looked nine at least. Even from three stories above, Catherine could see how they giggled.

It made her feel queer. She had no friend like that.

She didn't need one. She got to come to her father's auction rooms. No other children were allowed at Everleigh's. Being here made her special.

“What are you looking at, dear?”

Catherine turned. Her father was standing before an easel, on which sat a handsome drawing that might be by Mr. Raphael, or might not. He was trying to tell. “Nothing,” she said, feeling guilty.

Papa smiled at her. “Come here. Tell me what you think.”

She wiped her sweaty hands on her pinafore before reaching into her pocket for her loupe. Papa had given it to her for her seventh birthday. It looked just like the loupe Papa always carried in his own pocket. It had come with a velvet-lined box for safekeeping, but Catherine carried it at all hours. It was, Papa said, the “tool of the trade,” and no true auctioneer ever let his loupe go far from him.

As she put it to her eye, it did a magic thing, calling out the woolly edges of the ink, revealing the way the artist had drawn his strokes from top to bottom.

“Steady now.” Papa's hand closed around her wrist, holding her hand steady. “Now, what do you say? ­Raphael's, or no?”

Anxiety tightened her throat. It was a very important thing to decide. This drawing could be worth a fortune, but if it was a forgery, putting it to auction would bring shame upon the company. Nobody would trust an auctioneer who sold forgeries.

As she squinted into the loupe, she answered the questions he had taught her to ask of an old Italian drawing. “Mr. Raphael used iron-gall ink,” she said. “It gets darker with time. This ink is very dark, which is good.”

“Yes,” he murmured. “What else?”

She had never confessed to him that she cheated on these tests. She listened to his voice as carefully as she looked at the drawing, to know what
he
had decided.
His opinion was the most important thing in the world.

But maybe he had guessed at her cheating, for she could tell nothing from his voice as he prodded her. “Go on, Cate. Speak your thoughts aloud, so I might hear them.”

She frowned. She could do this. She was very smart for her age—smarter even than her brother, who was three years her elder. So Papa had told her. “The old masters drew very quickly, without lifting their quills from the page. But some of these lines are broken, and their edges are fuzzy. Feathered,” she corrected quickly. That was the grown-up word.

He made a happy noise. She lowered the loupe and found him beaming at her.

“What does that tell you?” he asked.

“It is not Mr. Raphael's work.”

He grinned. “Shall we toss it into the rubbish, then?”

Once before, she had fallen into this trap. She remembered how he had corrected her. Simply because an artist was not famous did not mean his work was rubbish. Sometimes it was the role of an auctioneer to steer public interest to items worth admiring.

She tucked her loupe back into her pocket and pulled out her gloves, which she drew on very quickly before turning the drawing upside down on the easel. Papa said this view freed the eye from “the tyranny of the whole,” allowing one to spot imperfections.

Even inverted, the figure looked very fine. His hands and feet were handsomely drawn, and the shadows of his robe were crosshatched in a careless way that reminded her of Mr. Raphael's work.

“Maybe it was one of his students,” she said. “I think we should sell it.”

“What a fine eye you have!” Papa rubbed her head. “Now tell me, dear—how would we list this in the catalog?”

“By Mr. Raphael's surname only,” she said. “That suggests it belongs to his period and style, but shows we make no claim that he drew it himself.”

He picked her up by the waist and lifted her into the wing chair in front of his desk. This was where the dealers and private clients sat when meeting with him. As he sat across from her, he smiled. “You're my diamond, Cate. Do you know that?”

Her spirits rose like confetti lifted by the wind. She nodded, buoyantly pleased.

But his smile faded as he continued to look at her. She wondered if she'd made a mistake, after all. “Is something wrong, Papa?”

“No, no. I'm pleased as punch with you,” he said softly. “I'm only thinking—you've got your mother's face, my love. A true beauty, you'll be.”

She bit her lip. She would rather take after Papa.

“You'll have your pick of gentlemen to marry,” Papa went on. “But I hope you won't ever forget the auction rooms.”

Horrified, she sat forward. “I would
never.
Papa, I wouldn't!”

He chuckled. “Your husband will want you at home.”

“Then I won't marry!” She saw no fun in it anyway. Even when Mama was well, she was full of complaints.

“Don't say that, Cate.” Papa reached across the desk for her hand. “Better to say—we'll find you a man of discerning tastes, who knows brilliance when he sees it, and knows to treasure it, too.”

She hesitated. “Gentlemen don't want a lady who knows more than them.”

“Your mother told you that?” When she nodded, he pulled a face. “Well, that isn't quite true. Some men reckon it a very fine thing, to have a wife with a brain.” His eyes narrowed. “And you've got one, Cate. A very clever brain, and I won't let it go to waste. What do you say to this? One day, my love, this place will be yours.”

Her breath caught.
Hers?
The thought dazzled her. Nowhere was more magical than Everleigh's, with its corners and shadows filled with treasures, and important people in jewels and silks parading through the halls at all hours.

But . . . “Mama said that Peter must have it.” Her older brother was at school now in Hampshire. Mama said he was learning important things there. But he could not be learning
so
much. Catherine could look at a painting and tell whether it was real or fake. Peter could not do that. He was as thickheaded as a wall when it came to art.

“Yes,” Papa said. “Peter will share Everleigh's with you. Ladies, I'm afraid, cannot be auctioneers. But you, my love, will be the soul of this place. Peter will manage the sales—but
you
will manage the art. Never forget, we Everleighs are not merely tradesmen. Art is our calling, and a true auctioneer must understand it better than even the artist himself. You will help Peter to do that, won't you?”

She did not want to help Peter do anything. When he came home on holidays, he pinched her until she bruised. But it seemed a small price to pay, to be given the auction rooms as her own. “The artist creates,” she recited dutifully. “
We
give his work value.”

“Precisely.” He lifted her hand and kissed her knuckles, as though she were a proper grown-up. “My beauty,”
he said softly. “You make me proud. Do you know that?” The grandfather clock chimed, causing Papa to drop her hand and cast a startled glance toward the time. “Ah, we've missed dinner again. Your mother won't be pleased.”

Catherine struggled out of the chair. Mama hated when they did not arrive for dinner. Sometimes, as a punishment, she kept Catherine home the next day. “I want to come tomorrow, too,” she said. “Please, will you bring me?” It was so boring at home. Mama was well, right now, which meant she spent the afternoons visiting friends, who talked of nothing but dresses and troublesome servants.

Papa had risen to put on his coat. “Of course,” he said over his shoulder. “If you are to inherit this place, there's no time to waste. You must come daily, and learn everything there is to know.”

Perfect happiness felt like the heat from a fire on a cold winter's night. “I will learn everything,” she promised. She would make him prouder than he imagined.

*    *   *

Saturdays were the best days. Provided you found a room, the single night's rent would purchase you two days of rest, for no landlord came calling on Sundays. What a glorious thing it was to settle under a roof for the weekend! Ma had laid down some blankets for his bed, and Nick had slept Saturday through, and most of Sunday besides. When he'd woken at last, the vespers had been tolling from Christ Church, and a feast had been waiting on the floor beside his bed.

His fever had finally broken. He'd known it by the hunger he felt. Hardest thing he'd ever done, to sit there,
stomach growling, for another two hours till Ma appeared again. She gave him sass for having waited, but he would not eat a bite till she agreed to take half for herself.

That feast would keep his stomach busy for days. Cheese, an entire crusty loaf of bread, and two kinds of meat, sheep's head and pork together—the Lord's last supper hadn't been so grand. Nick relished every bite, trying not to think on what Ma had sold to get it. This week had pinched. Usually he found work at the docks, but the ganger had seen the fever in his face on Thursday, and turned him away two days running. That cost seven shillings, with most of the rest going to the week's rent. What pennies remained would not have paid for a quarter of this ham.

It seemed Ma tasted what she'd done for it. The meat turned her sour. She started in on him again. Lately she'd taken it into her head to send him to his older sister in Whitechapel. Seemed she could talk of nothing else. Oona would take him in; she'd agreed to it already, Ma said.

But Whitechapel might as well be the moon, as far as Nick cared. He'd grown up in Spitalfields. His father had died here, killed in a street brawl just outside Lyell's public house. He had friends in these streets; everyone knew his face. Did Ma want him in pieces? For the boys in Whitechapel didn't care for nobody but their own, nor should they. It would make no difference to them that Oona's husband was boss of those parts. To be related through a sister was barely to be related at all. Ma knew that as well as Nick did.

It frightened him a little that she had started pretending otherwise. It seemed a measure of desperation,
as though things had gotten worse, though in his view, nothing had changed. Now the fever was gone, he'd find work again, easy. He was strong, and tall for his nearly eleven years. With food in his stomach, he'd be sure to impress the ganger. Maybe one day soon he'd move into the “Royals,” that rank of men who were always called first to work when a ship docked for unloading.

He went to sleep on Sunday with these hopes in mind. Yet when he woke on Monday, he did so with a pit in his stomach. Mondays were the worst days of all. On Mondays, the landlord resumed his circuit. Nick could already hear him on the other side of the curtain, having it out with Ma.

“Just an hour more,” she was saying to Mr. Bell. “He's been sick, you see.”

Nick hated that wheedling note in her voice. She never used it with anybody else. On the street, in rough company, she sounded tough as a boxer. But with Mr. Bell, she said, there was no choice but to snivel. That was what he wanted, even more than the rent, and as long as he owned most of Spitalfields, snivel she would.
Know when to box, and when to bow,
she liked to tell Nick.
And don't feel no shame for either. It's the way of the world, if you mean to survive.

Easy for her to say. Women could grovel without any loss of face.

Usually Mr. Bell was easily won over. Nick didn't like to think why. But today he sounded hard, pissy as a wench whose lad had gone roving. “I know what you're about,” he said. “Who's sick here? You, or the boy? For it's clear as day you're breeding.”

Behind the curtain, Nick caught his breath, and waited for his mother to deny it.

But all she said was, “Well, and if I am, you've cause to know why.”

Shock exploded through him. So
this
was why she'd changed her tune, and grown so eager to ditch Nick in Whitechapel! Why, what would she do with a baby to look after? How could they afford it? And by God, who was the pervert father? Ma was already a grandmother twice over!

You've cause to know why.

No. It couldn't be!

Red rage drove him to rip aside the curtain. Bell skittered backward as a chunk of ceiling came down. “I'll kill you,” Nick choked.

“No!” His mother caught him around the waist, hauling him back. She was stronger than she looked, and he didn't fight, for he didn't want to hurt her.

BOOK: Luck Be a Lady
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