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Authors: Dawn MacTavish

The Marsh Hawk

BOOK: The Marsh Hawk
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RAVE REVIEWS FOR DAWN MacTAVISH!


The Marsh Hawk
is historical fiction at its very best. A breathtaking, sweeping adventure. No one does period romance with such style and panache.
The Marsh Hawk
 stole my heart!”

—Deborah MacGillivray, Author of
A Restless
Knight
 and
The Invasion of Falgannon Isle

“If you're looking for something fresh and lively . . . Dawn MacTavish's tale of a London beauty . . . who isn't afraid to impersonate a masked highwayman . . . and the real, sapphire-eyed highwayman who pursues her, will keep you up reading all night. The love scenes are luscious.
The Marsh Hawk
 is a winner.”

—Katherine Deauxville, National Bestselling Author
of
Out of the Blue

“. . . A full-bodied and riveting historical tale full of multi-dimensional characters you'll remember long after the last page is turned. Be prepared to savor every word from this fresh new voice in the genre.”

—Marilyn Rondeau, Sensual Romance Reviews


The Marsh Hawk
 will enchant the reader from page one. This sweeping Regency will capture the reader's imagination and make you fall in love with the genre all over again.”

—Kristi Ahlers, The Best Reviews

“ From the first suspenseful page, I was captivated!”

—Kenda Montgomery, official reviewer for The
Mystic Castle

“ Brilliant! . . . A breathtaking historical romance.
The Marsh Hawk
 will run the gamut of your emotions—from laughter to tears. . . . You won't want the story to end.”

—Leanne Burroughs, Award Winning Author of
Highland Wishes
and
Her Highland Rogue

STAND AND DELIVER!

Jenna turned to go. She couldn't believe she was standing there, half-dressed, in the garden in the middle of the night, casually discussing tobacco with a man who was probably going to kill her betrothed in a duel.

“I shouldn't be here. I'm sorry,” she murmured.

“Why did you come out here at this hour?” Kevernwood said, his deep voice turning her around again.

“Flowers have the same effect upon me as your pipe has upon you, my lord,” she replied, swallowing her rapid heartbeat. “I couldn't sleep. I wanted to think, and I always do that best whilst communing with nature.”

He came closer, hardly limping at all, and as he continued to advance she could no longer control the rush of excitement that pulsed through the core of her sexuality, quickening her heart, setting off alarm bells in her brain . . . .

For all the talented ladies of Coeur de Louisiane,
whose friendship and support has been with me since
The Marsh Hawk placed first in their Romancing the
Tome contest, when this wonderful journey began.

DORCHESTER PUBLISHING

Published by

Dorchester Publishing Co., Inc.
200 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10016

Copyright © 2007 by Dawn Thompson

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, without the written permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law. The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author's rights is appreciated.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Trade ISBN: 978-1-4285-1730-1
E-book ISBN: 978-1-4285-0320-5

First Dorchester Publishing, Co., Inc. edition: July 2007

The “DP” logo is the property of Dorchester Publishing Co., Inc.

Printed in the United States of America.

Visit us online at
www.dorchesterpub.com
.

P
ROLOGUE
Cornwall, England, Spring 1812

It was a perfect night for a robbery on the old Lamorna Road. Jenna waited just inside the copse, praying that her curves were well obscured by the long black cloak, slouch hat, and mask, which hid all but her eyes. The horse beneath her pranced, puffing visible breath from flared nostrils, but she was a skilled horsewoman and soon coaxed him to a reluctant halt. There must be no sound. The highwayman had stopped the coach but a few yards distant. The acrid smell of gunpowder from his pistol shot still lingered on the cool night air. It mingled badly with the metallic taste of fear, like blood—like death—building at the back of her palate.

She swallowed. The coach's passengers had spilled out on the roadway: a man and a woman, well dressed in the silks and frills of the aristocracy. The woman's diamond earbobs sparkled in the half-light, and the gentleman's silver shoe buckles and glittering stickpin gleamed irresistibly. The highwayman wouldn't notice her now, not with the dazzle of their ornaments to distract him. She eased a pistol from beneath her cloak and cocked it.

Cold sweat beaded on her face beneath the black silk mask. It ran in rivulets between her breasts and triggered a chill that riddled her spine until she shuddered. How had it come to this? What was she, the daughter of a baronet, doing on this dark Cornish road in the dead of night, straddling a horse with a pair of loaded pistols at the ready?

There was no time for retrospection, no time for nursing regrets. Moved by a strange mix of terror and exhilaration that was shockingly sexual, she fired a shot in the air, jammed the spent pistol into her belt, and rode from the copse with the other drawn.

“Stand down and deliver, sir!” she cried out in a deliberately disguised voice already muffled behind the mask.

The highwayman wheeled his horse toward her. He was attired almost exactly as she, except that he wore a half-mask that clearly showed her his broad, clean-shaven chin, and a mouth pursed irascibly in a thin, lipless line.

She reined her mount closer. The fleeting rays of a bashful sickle moon peeking through the dense cloud cover cast an eerie halo about him.

“Drop the pistol, sir,” she demanded, gesturing with her own, “and the spoils—the jewels, and that reticule there.
Now
!”

He hesitated, thrusting out his jaw. “Who the devil are you?” he demanded.

“Someone you do not want to know, sir. Drop the pistol, and the rest, I say! My patience ebbs low.”

The coachman and postilion sat frozen and slack jawed, their arms in the air, too far from the outdated cannon-barreled blunderbuss that had fallen out of reach beneath their feet. Jenna monitored them out of the corner of her eye, as well as the middle-aged couple trembling against each other alongside the wide-flung coach door. Their expressions spoke volumes. The last turn of events any of them expected was one highwayman holding up another. She almost laughed. If they only knew that one of them was a woman.

The highwayman threw his pistol down and dismounted, but he did not relinquish the spoils. Instead, he strolled boldly closer—rather stiffly, she thought—to exhibit them.

“I'm willing to share,” he said. His voice was cultured. “What say we join?” He didn't wait for an answer. “There's more than enough here for two.”

“Stand where you are,” she snapped.

He'd come dangerously close, close enough to agitate her mount, extracting a snort; close enough for her to inhale the jarring aroma of leather, tobacco, and recently drunk wine drifting toward her on the night breeze from his clothing and glistening moist skin. She took the measure of his tall, muscular shape beneath the multicaped greatcoat that didn't quite contain him. Yes, this was the one—the one they called the Marsh Hawk—there was no mistake. His arrogant demeanor damned him.

His eyes were blue fire in the moonlight, blazing toward her through the holes in his mask. They triggered a wave of pulsating heat that surged through her body. She scarcely blinked. Her hatred of his ilk demanded satisfaction and she raised her weapon, motioning him to walk on ahead of her.

“Hold your hands high, where I can see them!” she commanded. “Your business is done here. You're coming with me.”

“Afoot?” he blurted. “Where to?”

“You'll see soon enough.
March
!”

He hesitated, his hands still lowered. Was that another pistol concealed beneath his cloak?

Yes! In a blink, he drew it, aimed, and fired, but she was quicker, since her own was already drawn, and her pistol ball knocked him off his feet as it ripped through his shoulder—or was it his chest? It happened so fast, she couldn't be certain.

The bullet from his gun whizzed past her as he fell. Their horses reared, complaining, setting the coach horses in motion, and the coachman quickly grabbed the reins and pulled back hard to hold them. Before Jenna could bring her mount's high-flying forefeet to the ground again, the flabbergasted aristocrats had scrambled back inside the carriage.

“Hyaaah!” the driver bellowed, snapping his whip. And the coach sped off in a cloud of thick, Cornish dust. The highwayman's mount galloped crazily after it.

Jenna stared down at the man writhing at her prancing mount's feet. For a moment their eyes met—his narrowed in pain, hers wide with a paralyzing mix of horror and triumph. A hot rush of blood surging like liquid flame coursed through her, ignited by the look in those riveting eyes that held her so relentlessly. Then finally, mercifully, they closed and he fell back in the dirt of the road. Was he dead? No, not quite.

Alerted by a rustling sound, Jenna glanced about. They weren't alone. Was someone watching her? She dared not linger. Spurring her mount, she disappeared into the gnarled trees at the edge of the wood.

C
HAPTER
O
NE
Two months later

It was to be a gala three-day event at Moorhaven Manor, the rambling country estate of Lady Jenna Hollingsworth's betrothed, Viscount Rupert Marner. Moorhaven was situated on the eastern fringes of Bodmin Moor, hence its name. Half the Cornish nobility, not to mention a host of peers from London, were to attend the festivities commencing that evening with an elaborate masked ball at which Jenna's engagement to the viscount would be formally announced. A leisurely day of picnicking, riding, archery, and shooting would follow on Saturday, culminating in a formal sit-down dinner. A hunt on Sunday was planned to bring the weekend to a spectacular close, weather permitting, of course. One could never plan such an event with any degree of confidence in Cornwall. Cornish “flaws,” as the locals called the unpredictable storms that plagued the coast, were notorious for upsetting the most carefully laid plans.

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