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Authors: Christine Merrill

Taken by the Wicked Rake

BOOK: Taken by the Wicked Rake
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TAKEN BY

THE WICKED RAKE

by

Christine Merrill


I hate you, Stephano Beshaley. As much as you hate my family.

Lady Verity Carlow is poised, charming, virginal. Her family's precious jewel. She will marry whatever titled bore is chosen for her. Yet sometimes, in the dark of the night, she wishes she weren't always so well behaved…
Then she is kidnapped by her family's enemy, Gypsy lord Stephano Beshaley. In this dangerously unsuitable man's arms, Verity is tempted to do wicked, wicked things. And, shockingly, she does not want to be rescued – not one little bit!

As the secrets of the past are dramatically revealed, join in the

final breathtaking installment of

Silk & Scandal
.

London, 1814

A season of secrets, scandal

and seduction!

A darkly dangerous stranger is

out for revenge, delivering a silken rope as his calling card. Through him, a long-forgotten scandal is reawakened. The notorious events of 1794, which saw one man murdered and another hanged for the crime, are ripe

gossip in the ton. Was the right culprit brought to justice or is there a treacherous murderer still at large?

As the murky waters of the past are disturbed, so servants find love with roguish lords, and proper ladies fall for rebellious outcasts until, finally, the true murderer and spy is revealed.

Regency Silk & Scandal

From glittering ballrooms to a Cornish smuggler’s cove; from the wilds of Scotland to a Romany camp – join the highest and lowest in society as they find love in this thrilling new eight-book miniseries!

Praise for award-winning author
Christine Merrill

Paying the Virgin’s Price

Second in the Regency

Silk & Scandal
miniseries

“Merrill quickly draws readers into this dark tale of vengeance and redemption. The mystery carries the readers onward, as do the finely drawn characters.”

~
RT Book Reviews

¤

Seducing A Stranger

“Lushly sensual.”

~
Chicago Tribune

¤

A Wicked Liaison

“Humor, suspense and a hot romance.”

~
RT Book Reviews

¤

The Mistletoe Wager

“The perfect book to pick up at the beginning of the holiday season for a strong dose of Christmas spirit.”

~
RT Book Reviews

¤

The Inconvenient Duchess

“A well-crafted, potent and

passionate story.”

~
RT Book Reviews

Dear Reader,
What a long and amazing journey it has been to get to this, the last book of the Regency
Silk & Scandal
series. My fellow authors and I started out in the summer of 2008, with little more than a few suggestions from editor Jo Grant at Harlequin Mills & Boon that we create a story line and series with a varied cast of characters, and some kind of scandal.
Between us, we have planned weddings, funerals and a hanging. We’ve cursed, spied and refought the battle of Waterloo. After two years, the people we created have become like an extended and rather dysfunctional family to my fellow writers and me, or, as Louise Allen dubbed us, The Continuistas.
We’ve had some interesting discussions in the course of writing these books. Where can you go if you want to make out in Hyde Park? And what kind of trees were there in 1814? How many times has Stephano been shot, stabbed or drowned? And where are the scars?
And how, exactly, do you cook a hedgehog?
At the end of it, I think we all are standing back, a bit surprised at what a good time we had. I hope that it has been as much fun for you, the reader, as it was for us.
Happy reading,
Christine Merrill

Look for these novels in the

Regency miniseries

SILK & SCANDAL

The Lord and the Wayward Lady

by Louise Allen

Paying the Virgin’s Price

by Christine Merrill

The Smuggler and the Society Bride

by Julia Justiss

Claiming the Forbidden Bride

by Gayle Wilson

The Viscount and the Virgin

by Annie Burrows

Unlacing the Innocent Miss

by Margaret McPhee

The Officer and the Proper Lady

by Louise Allen

Taken by the Wicked Rake

by Christine Merrill

Did you know these novels are also available as ebooks?

Visit
www.eHarlequin.com
.

To Annie, Gayle, Julia, Louise and Margaret, again.

And always.

What a wild ride it’s been.

TAKEN

BY

THE WICKED RAKE

Chapter One

August, 1915,

Warrenford Park

“Are you enjoying the party, my dear?” Robert Veryan, Viscount Keddinton, rocked back on his heels, as though proud of the job he had done in entertaining his only goddaughter. His wife, Felicity, stood on her other side, equally satisfied with their efforts.

Verity Carlow looked around the ballroom at Warrenford Park. The walls were a pristine white, the accents gold, the design classic and without the fussy Rococo that she had seen in some houses. The music playing in the back ground was sedate, and as clean and expertly rendered as the white walls. The dancers on the polished marble floor moved to the tune like clockwork figures, and the observers kept their chatter to a polite and unobtrusive level.

It was well-ordered perfection.

The sight of it made her head ache. She gave her host a brave smile that did not suit her mood and said, “It is a lovely evening. Thank you so much, Uncle Robert.” He was no more her real uncle than this ball was a true entertainment. But if he wished to think himself so, it would be unkind to disappoint him or to complain that throwing her this party was little better than putting curtains over the bars of a cage.

She could not, for one minute, fool herself into thinking that this was a pleasant trip to the country. Her brother, Marcus, had made it clear that she was being sent to Keddinton’s country estate so that the family could more easily control her acquaintances and associations.

It was more than a little unfair of Marc to treat her so. In her twenty-one years, she had done nothing to give her family cause to worry. Her past was devoid of even the smallest misstep. But it did not matter to anyone what she had or had not done. When they had sent her into exile, her brothers cited unnamed predators and vague ‘risks to the family’ and promised that it was done for her own safety. But when she had asked for details, they had been unwilling to clarify their statements so that she might do anything to protect herself.

How could she know what to guard against, if no one would tell her the truth? When she asked who or what she needed to avoid, the best they would manage was a rueful shake of their heads, and the answer, “Everything.” They had packed her off to the country, where she would be bored but safe. And there would be no getting ’round Keddinton on the details of the trouble, or when it might be safe for her to return to London. Uncle Robert was the biggest spymaster in England. She might as well have tried to coax secrets out of the ballroom walls.

He was smiling at her now. And though his expression seemed harmless and friendly, she was sure his sharp grey eyes were as ever-watchful as a jailer’s. As if to confirm the fact, he said, “I promised your father that I would keep you safe. And so I shall. It is an honour and a privilege to do so. But it must have been difficult for you to leave your friends in town.”

“It was no hardship to come here,” she lied. “You know that I always enjoy our visits.” Although she was not sure why he felt the need to watch over her so closely. If there were evil people who wished to harm her, did it not make more sense to find and cage them, instead of standing guard on her as though they expected her to instigate the problem through her own foolishness?

Lady Keddinton added her thoughts to her husband’s. “We want to make sure that you are not feeling blue. And we will give you opportunity to continue to socialize. For I know your family had hoped that, by now, you would have made a match.”

Verity looked at her hostess more closely. Was this an honest comment or just another quiet prod to make her choose from among the carefully vetted candidates in this room? She would think it was the latter, had not Aunt Felicity two unmarried daughters to dispose of.

Not that she wished to poach suitors from the Veryan girls. Verity had hoped that she might be free for a time from making any choice at all. She gave a firm nod of thanks and said, “There have been three weddings in the family within twelve months. We have had quite enough excitement, even without my help. I think it is probably better that I wait another Season to marry, if only to avoid further stress upon father.”

“But it would not stress him at all,” Uncle Robert said. “I know for a fact that he is most eager to see you settled.”

Before he dies.
Why would he not just say the words aloud, for he was clearly thinking them?

Verity wished that she were allowed to curse, even in the silence of her own mind. To do it aloud would be even better. There were times when it would be most satisfying to tell everyone what she was really thinking. She would say that there was not a single man in London or the country that had raised in her the least desire for an association longer than a single dance. But everyone expected her to make a choice that would set the course of her entire life, so that her father could pass on, believing she was happy and settled.

Uncle Robert was still smiling. “Now that Alexander is home, you need not fear loneliness.”

“I am sure you will find him good company. You played together quite charmingly when children.” Aunt Felicity was smiling as if there was little left to arrange but a suitable date and the menu for a wedding breakfast.

Although she worked very hard to retain control of her emotions, Verity could not marshal the small sigh that escaped her, on the mention of the Veryans’ son. She remembered him not as a good playfellow, but as a miserable little toad. Their recent meetings had done nothing to change her opinion of him. If the true reason for this visit was to isolate her from London Society to put the good character of Alexander Veryan in sharper relief, then she would make her brothers pay dearly for the trick.

Especially since, once they chose to marry, everyone around her had paired off in record time with people that would be considered far too unsuitable for her. Though his bride, Nell, was the sweetest girl in the world, Marcus had married beneath his station. Her sister, Honoria, had admitted in a particularly unguarded letter, that her new husband had only recently stopped smuggling and found honest trade. Even Diana Price, who had been a paragon of virtue while she had chaperoned the Carlow girls, had thrown propriety aside to marry the gambler Nathan Wardale.

Of course, brother Hal’s wife, Julia, was beyond reproach. But since Hal himself was incorrigible, his choosing such a worthy bride had been as surprising as the others’ selections.

It was clear that each of the matches had been made on the basis of an almost over powering attraction. The parties involved had been swept away by their feelings, and had given over to actions that were most unlike their usual behaviour.

Then they had all turned to Verity, thinking that for her it would be different. She was to be the sensible one and listen to the wise counsel of people who were happy enough to ignore their own advice. She was expected to barter herself away to someone like Alexander Veryan, making a minimum of bother to her family. Everyone could then go back to their adoring spouses, secure in the knowledge that it was someone else’s job to worry about little Verity’s future happiness.

BOOK: Taken by the Wicked Rake
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