Authors: Candace Camp
“I have no evil designs against your virginal body.”
Julia was not sure why his words filled her with such cold. “Then you are speaking of a marriage in appearance only?”
“Certainly. What else could possibly be between us?” Deverel asked.
“Nothing, of course,” she answered. “Is that what you wantâto tie yourself to a loveless marriage?”
“It's not a question of what I want. Or of what you want. It is a question of what we have to do. Or do you not believe that you have a certain duty to your family?”
“Of course I believe I have a duty to them.”
She had sworn she could not marry the man who had ruined her brotherâbut had he really been responsible for that? Everything inside her quailed at the idea of facing a lifetime in a loveless, even antagonistic marriage. Yet she knew that to refuse to do it would be the act of a coward.
Julia looked Deverel squarely in the eyes. “All right,” she said. “I will marry you.”
“A smart, fun-filled romp.”
So Wild a Heart
The Hidden Heart
Secrets of the Heart
Also available from Candace Camp
An Unexpected Pleasure
No Other Love
Promise Me Tomorrow
A Stolen Heart
Watch for the newest historical romance from Candace Camp
An Independent Woman
ulia pulled the cap low on her head, hiding her face in the shadow of the brim, and edged closer to the horse whose head she held. Every muscle in her body tensed, and her eyes were glued to the man strolling down the opposite side of the street.
It was Lord Stonehaven, all right.
She would recognize that arrogant, muscular stride anywhere.
The horse shifted nervously as her hand unconsciously tightened on the bridle. Julia ran a soothing hand down his neck. The last thing she wanted was to alert Stonehaven.
In just a few more steps they would have him.
Her eyes went involuntarily to the darkened doorway beyond her quarry. She could see no sign of Nunnelly or Jasper, even knowing that they were there. It was a well-recessed doorway; that was why they had chosen this particular spot for their ambush.
She waited, scarcely daring to breathe. In another moment they would have the man responsible for her brother's downfall. Lord Stonehaven took one step, then another. Suddenly, without a break in his stride, he stepped out into the street, bypassing the doorway. Julia clenched her teeth against the shriek of frustration that rose in her throat.
Damn the man! How did he always manage to thwart them?
She knew it was over, the attempt failed like the other two times, even as the two men bolted out of the black doorway toward their quarry. Lord Stonehaven was simply too good a fighter for them to subdue him without the element of surprise. Nunnelly still had a welt across his forehead from their last attempt to prove it.
Stonehaven whirled as Nunnelly and Jasper charged, and he slammed his walking stick into Jasper's midsection. The young man doubled over, and Lord Stonehaven neatly sidestepped him and drove a fierce right uppercut into Nunnelly's jaw. The burly Nunnelly staggered back, dropping the sack that they had intended to pull over Lord Stonehaven's head. Nunnelly's feet got tangled up in the sack, and he fell to the street. Stonehaven reached down and grasped the man's jacket, hauling him up.
“All right, you!” Stonehaven's crisp voice carried clearly across the street. “I want some answersânow! What the devil do you mean, attacking me? This isn't the first time, either.”
For an answer, Nunnelly swung at him, but Stonehaven stepped sharply back to avoid it, releasing Nunnelly. Jasper, still bent over from the earlier blow to his midsection, charged the man, but Stonehaven turned and brought his hand down hard on the young man's neck, sending him sprawling to the ground.
Julia knew she had to do something to help. But she was also aware of how little good she would do her men in a brawl with Stonehaven. If he could deck Nunnelly like that, he would send her flying. So she scrambled up the coach onto the driver's box, taking the reins in her hands. She slapped the reins noisily, then cracked the whip. Startled, the horses surged toward the men.
Even Lord Stonehaven jumped back at the sight of the coach and four barreling toward them. Nunnelly and Jasper scrambled to their feet and came running. Julia jerked the horses to a stop, knowing that Nunnelly would have a few choice things to say to her about her handling of his prize team, and the two men jumped inside. She slapped the reins again, and the carriage took off. To her surprise, Stonehaven ran after them, reaching up to grab hold of the bar the coachman used to climb up into the high seat. He jumped up onto the step. With his free hand, he reached toward the driver's box to pull himself up. Panicked, Julia whirled and kicked him hard in the chest. It was enough to break his grip. Stonehaven fell heavily to the street.
Julia risked a look back as the horses charged forward. Stonehaven was slowly rising to his feet, dusting himself off and cursing. She turned back around and devoted herself to controlling four spooked horses. It was not an easy task. Even planting her feet firmly on the floor and standing up to haul back on the reins, she had an uneasy moment when she thought that the horses were not going to respond. It felt as if her arms would be torn from their sockets. Then the lead horses shook their heads and slowed and gradually came to a halt.
Nunnelly erupted from the carriage below. “Jaysus, Mary and Joseph!” he exclaimed, his Irish accent thick in his excitement. “Now what did ye think ye were doin', Miss Julie?”
He ran to inspect his horses, running a calming hand over them and talking to them in the special low voice he reserved for his animals.
“I was saving your ungrateful skin, is what I was doing,” Julia replied crisply, accustomed to the man's rough way of talking. She turned and looked behind her. The street stretched emptily into darkness. They had left Lord Stonehaven far behind in the mad rush to escape.
“Sure, now, and it's glad I am you did,” Nunnelly allowed. “But did ye have to spook the horses while ye were doin' it? Here, Jasper!” He swung toward his hapless assistant. “Come make yourself useful and take their heads whilst I get up atop. It's little enough you've done tonight so far.”
The young man bristled at the words. “I didn't see you do aught better!”
“Hush, you two,” Julia sighed. “We
“It's right ye are about that, miss,” the coachman agreed glumly as he swung up into the seat beside her and took the reins. He nodded to Jasper, and the lad let go of the horses and ran to jump up on the step at the back of the carriage.
Nunnelly looked over at Julia in her lad's trousers, rough shirt and cap. “Thank the Lord he didn't make it up here, miss, or that would have been the end of all of us.”
“Stonehaven wouldn't have recognized me,” Julia replied confidently. “He's never seen me. That time he came to see Selby in the country was when Mama was so dreadfully sick, and I never ventured downstairs.”
“That may be, miss, but your disguise wouldn't ha' lasted ten seconds, and he'd 'a' known ye were a colleen.” He shook his head. “'Tis too dangerous, yer comin' with us like this.”
“Where would you two have been tonight if I hadn't come?” Julia retorted. “Besides, it's my plan. I have to be here.”
This was an argument they had had many times before, and Nunnelly knew he had no chance of winning it. Julia had always been the most headstrong person he'd ever knownâman or womanâand she had been able to twist him around her little finger since she was a mere slip of a girl.
Nunnelly sighed and shook his head. “The truth of it is, Miss Julie, it don't look to be workin'.”
Julia sighed. “I know, Nunnelly. You're right.”
This was the third time they had attempted to seize Lord Stonehaven, and he had been too quick and too good for them every time.
“He's a fighter, miss, and a good one. I've heard he works out with the Gentleman himself.” His voice deepened in awe as he mentioned the most renowned pugilist of the day, Gentleman Jackson. “It's strong, he is, and quick. Some of the gentlemen can box, ye see, but in a real fight, they're more useless than Jasper there. But this oneâfilthy poltroon though he isâhe cuts a fine figure in a fight.” He paused, then added thoughtfully, “There are some men I could get to help. Even he couldn't take on four or five of us and win.”
“No,” Julia responded quickly. “I don't want too many people to know about this. You and Jasper are different.” Both Nunnelly and the groom had worked for her family for years. They couldn't have been more loyal if they had been actual members of the family. “But strangersâ¦it would never do for word of this to leak out.”
“No, miss,” the coachman agreed fervently. He was silent for a moment as they drove through the dark streets of London. They were almost home when he cast a speculative look at Julia and began tentatively, “Maybe we should forget it, missâ¦.”
Julia whirled around, her eyes shooting fire. “What? Forget about Selby? Do you not care anymore about him? Do you not care if his name is cleared or if Gilbert has to live under the shadow of scandal all his life? Don't you care about getting the man who did it to him? Or are you scared?”
Stung, the coachman replied, “There's no man alive can call Mike Nunnelly a coward, miss, and get away with it. And there's no call to be tellin' me I don't care about yer brother. It's jist that I'm thinkin' of you, Miss Julia. Maybe it's time ye did something else, time ye got on with your life, thought of marrying and babies and suchâ¦.”
A lesser man would have quailed before the fierce light in Julia's eyes. “Marriage? Babies?” she replied scornfully. “Are you saying that I should tend to my knitting and let men do the work? Besides, how do you think I shall get a husband with the world thinking my brother was aâ¦a thief!” Her eyes filled with angry tears.
“Now, don't ye go tryin' to change the subject on me. It's this plan we're talkin' about, not your brother, God rest his soul.” The coachman crossed himself and continued. “The fact is, we did our best, miss, and it didn't work. We've been here three weeks now, followin' him around, watchin' him go in and out, chasin' women and playin' cards and goin' to that club of his. Why, it's a miracle to catch the man alone. Always with friends or some fancy piece on his armsâwhich, beggin' your pardon, miss, you shouldn't even be seein'.”
“I know.” Julia's expression turned thoughtful.
“Three times we've managed to take him by surprise and alone, and he's got clean away, every one. If we don't be usin' more men, then what're we to do? I ask you. It's suspicious he is nowâdid ye hear what he said to me? He knows it was us before, maybe not the first timeâbut some stranger tryin' to knock ye over the head three times, it can't be jist bad luck. There's no sneakin' up on him again.”
“I realize that. You are right. Obviously this plan isn't going to work. But I am not going to give up. Not after what he did to Selby.”
Three years earlier Julia's brother, Selby, had been accused of stealing money from a trust fund of which he was a trustee. The man who had accused him, and who had proven to the world that Selby was guilty, was Deverel Grey, Lord Stonehaven. Though Selby had insisted he was innocent, public opinion had been hard against him. Indeed, the evidence had been compelling, convincing almost everyone except Selby's wife and sister. In the end, Selby had shot himself while he was alone at his hunting box. People had called it suicide and taken it as further proof of his guilt. Even Phoebe, his wife, thought he had killed himself, driven to it by despair over his inability to make anyone believe him. Only Julia had clung to the belief that the shooting had been an accident, but she had placed the blame for his carelessness on the despair and frustration he had felt. The ultimate blame, she believed, lay with the man who had hounded Selby to his death, Lord Stonehaven.
Julia turned to Nunnelly, her chin jutting out in the stubborn way he knew so well. “We will simply have to come up with another plan.”
“Another plan?” The coachman frowned. “Have ye hatched another one, then?” The workings of Julia's mind awedâand often alarmedâthe stolid Irishman.
“Yes, one just came to me.”
“What is it, then?”
Julia glanced at the loyal servant. There was no way that she could tell him the truth. “Let's wait and see.”
Nunnelly grumbled at her answer, but Julia ignored him, settling back in the high coachman's seat and contemplating the dark houses around them. It was a daring plan. But it was, she thought with swelling hope, a plan that could work.
They had been studying Lord Stonehaven for weeks now, and she knew his weaknesses. She would use those weaknesses against him, and this time she would succeed.
She would bring Lord Stonehaven downâby seducing him.