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Lady Phoebe Batten is pretty, vivacious, and yearning for a social life befitting the sister of a powerful duke. But because she is almost completely blind, her overprotective brother insists that she have an armed bodyguard by her side at all times-the very irritating Captain Trevillion.
FROM EVERY DANGER
Captain James Trevillion is proud, brooding, and cursed with a leg injury from his service in the King’s dragoons. Yet he can still shoot and ride like the devil, so watching over the distracting Lady Phoebe should be no problem at all-until she’s targeted by kidnappers.
BUT PASSION ITSELF
Caught in a deadly web of deceit, James must risk life and limb to save his charge from the lowest of cads-one who would force Lady Phoebe into a loveless marriage. But while they’re confined to close quarters for her safekeeping, Phoebe begins to see the tender man beneath the soldier’s hard exterior . . . and the possibility of a life-and love-she never imagined possible.
Table of Contents
A Preview of Sweetest Scoundrel
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Now once there was a king who lived by the sea. He had had three sons and the youngest was named Corineus.…
—From The Kelpie
Captain James Trevillion, formerly of the 4th Dragoons, was used to dangerous places. He'd hunted highwaymen in the stews of St Giles, apprehended smugglers along the cliffs of Dover, and guarded Tyburn gallows in the midst of a riot. Until now, though, he would not have counted Bond Street among their number.
It was a sunny Wednesday afternoon and fashionable London was gathered en masse, determined to spend its wealth on fripperies and blithely unaware of any impending violence.
As was, for that matter, Trevillion's charge.
"Do you have the package from Furtleby's?" inquired Lady Phoebe Batten.
The sister of the Duke of Wakefield, Lady Phoebe was plump, distractingly pretty, and quite pleasant to nearly everyone, excepting himself. She was also blind, which was both why she had her hand on Trevillion's left forearm and why Trevillion was here at all: he was her bodyguard.
"No, my lady," he answered absently as he watched one—no, three—big brutes coming toward them, moving against the brightly dressed crowd. One had a nasty scar on his cheek, another was a hulking redhead, and the third appeared to have no forehead. They looked ominously out of place in workmen's clothes, their expressions intent and fixed on his charge.
Interesting. Until now his duties as bodyguard had mostly been about making sure Lady Phoebe didn't become lost in a crowd. There'd never been a specific threat to her person.
Trevillion leaned heavily on the cane in his right hand and pivoted to look behind them. Lovely. A fourth man.
He felt something in his chest tighten with grim determination.
"Because the lace was especially fine," Lady Phoebe continued, "and also at a special price, which I'm quite sure I won't be able to find again for quite some time, and if I've left it at one of the shops we've already visited I'll be quite put out."
The nearest brute—the one without a forehead—was holding something down by his side—a knife? A pistol? Trevillion transferred the cane to his left hand and gripped his own pistol, one of two holstered in black leather belts crisscrossing his chest. His right leg protested the sudden loss of support.
Two shots, four men. The odds were not particularly good.
"Yes," Lady Phoebe replied. "And Mr. Furtleby made sure to tell me that the lace was made by grasshoppers weaving butterfly wings on the Isle of Man. Very exclusive."
"I am listening to you, my lady," Trevillion murmured as the first brute shoved aside an elderly dandy in a full-bottomed white wig. The dandy swore and shook a withered fist.
The brute didn't even turn his head.
"Are you?" she asked sweetly. "Because—"
The brute's hand came up with a pistol and Trevillion shot him in the chest.
Lady Phoebe clutched his arm. "What—?"
Two women—and the dandy—screamed.
The other three men started running. Toward them.
"Don't let go of me," Trevillion ordered, glancing quickly around. He couldn't fight three men with only one shot remaining.
"Whyever would I let go of you?" Lady Phoebe asked rather crossly.
He saw out of the corner of his eye that her bottom lip was pushed out like a small child's. It almost made him smile. Almost. "Left. Now."
He shoved her in that direction, his right leg giving him hell. The bloody thing had better not collapse on him—not now. He holstered the first pistol and drew the second.
"Did you shoot someone back there?" Lady Phoebe asked as a shrieking matron brushed roughly past her. Lady Phoebe stumbled against him and he wrapped his left arm over her small shoulders, pulling her close to his side. The panicked crowd was surging around them, making their progress harder.
"Yes, my lady."
There. A couple of paces away a small boy was holding the reins of a rangy bay gelding in the street. The horse's eyes showed white at the commotion, its nostrils flared wide, but it hadn't bolted at the shot, which was a good sign.
"Why?" Her face was turned to him, her warm breath brushing his chin.
"It seemed a good idea," Trevillion said grimly.
He looked back. Two of their attackers, the scarred one and another, had been detained behind a gaggle of screeching society ladies. The redhead, though, was determinedly elbowing through the crowd—straight in their direction.
Damn their hides. He wouldn't let them get to her.
Not on his watch.
Not this time.
"Did you kill him?" Lady Phoebe asked with interest.
"Maybe." They made the horse and boy. The horse turned its head as Trevillion grasped the stirrup, but remained calm. Good lad. "Up now."
"Horse," Trevillion grunted, slapping her hand on the horse's saddle.
"Oi!" shouted the boy.
Lady Phoebe was a clever girl. She felt down to the stirrup and placed her foot in it. Trevillion put his hand squarely on her lush arse and pushed her hard up onto the beast.
"Oof." She clutched at the horse's neck, but didn't look frightened at all.
"Thanks," Trevillion muttered to the boy, who was now wide-eyed, having caught sight of the pistol in his other hand.
He dropped his cane and scrambled inelegantly into the saddle behind Lady Phoebe. He yanked the reins from the boy's hand. With the pistol in his right hand, he wrapped his left arm around her waist, still holding the reins, and pulled her firmly against his chest.
The redheaded brute made the horse and grabbed for the bridle, his lips twisted in an ugly grimace.
Trevillion shot him full in the face.
A scream from the crowd.
The horse half-reared, throwing Lady Phoebe into the V of Trevillion's thighs, but he sternly kneed the beast into a canter, even as he holstered the spent pistol.
He might be a cripple on land but by God, in the saddle he was a demon.
"Did you kill that one?" Lady Phoebe shouted as they swerved around a cart. Her hat had fallen off. Light-brown locks blew across his lips.
He had her. He had her safe and that was all that mattered.
"Yes, my lady," he murmured into her ear. Flat, almost uncaring, for it would never do to let her hear the emotion that holding her in his arms provoked.
He leaned forward, inhaling the sweet scent of roses in her hair—innocent and forbidden—and kicked the horse into a full gallop through the heart of London.
And as he did so, Lady Phoebe threw back her head and laughed into the wind.
PHOEBE LET HER head fall to Captain Trevillion's shoulder—quite improperly—and felt the wind against her face as the horse surged beneath them. She didn't even realize she was laughing until the sound rushed back to her ears, joyous and free.
"You laugh at death, my lady?" Her guard's dour words were enough to put a damper on the lightest of spirits, but Phoebe had grown used to Captain Trevillion's gloomy voice in the past six months. She'd learned to ignore it and him.
Well, more or less.
"I laugh because I haven't ridden a horse in years," she said with just a small amount of reproach. She was only human, after all. "And I'll not let you spoil it for me with false guilt—you were the one who killed that poor man, after all, not I."
He grunted as the horse cantered around a corner, their bodies leaning as one. His chest was broad and strong behind her, the holstered pistols against her back hard reminders of his potential for violence. She heard an indignant cry as they whipped past and fought the urge to giggle. Strange. She might find the man irksome, but she'd never had any doubt at all that Captain Trevillion would keep her safe.
Even if he didn't particularly like her.
"He was trying to do you harm, my lady," Trevillion replied, his tone dry as dust as his arm tightened around her waist and the horse leaped some sort of obstacle.
Oh, that feeling! The swoop of her stomach, the momentary weightlessness, the thump as the horse landed, the movement of powerful equine muscles beneath her. She hadn't exaggerated to him: it had been years since she'd felt this. Phoebe hadn't been born blind. In fact, until the age of twelve her eyesight had been quite normal—she hadn't even needed spectacles. She couldn't recall now when it had started, but at some point her vision had begun to blur. Bright light made her eyes smart. It wasn't anything to be worried about at the time.
At least not at first.
Now… now, at the ripe age of one and twenty, she had been effectively blind for a year or more. Oh, she could make out vague shapes in very bright sunlight, but on an overcast day like today?
Not the birds in the sky, not the individual petals on a rose, not the fingernails on her own hand, no matter how closely she held it to her face.
All those sights were lost to her now, and with them many of the other simple pleasures in life.
Such as riding a horse.
She tangled her hands in the horse's coarse mane, enjoying Captain Trevillion's confident horsemanship. She wasn't at all surprised at the easy grace with which he guided the animal. He'd been a dragoon—a mounted soldier—and he often accompanied her on her early-morning trips to the Wakefield stables.
Around them the cacophony of London continued, eternally unabated: the rumble of carriage and cart wheels, the tramping of thousands of feet, the babble of voices raised in song and argument, people buying and selling and stealing, callers of wares, and the shriek of small children. Horses clip-clopped by and church bells tolled the hour, the half hour, and sometimes even the quarter hour.
As they rode, people shouted at them angrily. A canter was quite fast for London, and judging by the bunching of muscles beneath them and the sudden changes of direction, Trevillion was having to weave in and out of the traffic.
She turned her head toward him, inhaling. Captain James Trevillion wore no scent. Sometimes she could discern coffee or the faint smell of horses on him, but beyond that, nothing.
It was quite irksome. "Where are we now?"
Her lips must have been scandalously close to his cheek, yet she couldn't see him to be sure. She knew the captain had a lame right leg, knew the top of her head came to his chin, knew he had calluses between the middle finger and ring finger on his left hand, but she had no idea at all what he looked like.
"Can't you smell, my lady?" he replied.
She raised her head a bit, sniffing, then immediately wrinkled her nose at the distinctive stink—fish, sewage, and rot. "The Thames? Why bring us this way?"
"I'm making sure they aren't behind us, my lady," he said, calm as ever.
Sometimes Phoebe wondered what Captain Trevillion would do if she reached up and slapped his face. Or kissed him. Surely he'd not maintain his maddening reserve then?
Not, of course, that she actually wanted to kiss the man. Horrors! His lips were probably as cold as a mackerel's.
"Would they follow us this far?" she asked doubtfully. The whole thing seemed quite unlikely, now that she thought of it—being attacked in Bond Street of all places! Rather belatedly she remembered her lace and mourned the loss of a really good bargain.
"I don't know, my lady," Captain Trevillion replied, somehow managing to sound condescending and emotionless at the same time. "That's why I'm taking an unexpected route."
She tightened her grip on the horse's mane. "Well, what did they look like, my attackers?"
"Like common footpads."
"Perhaps they were?" she ventured. "Common footpads, I mean. Perhaps they weren't after me in particular."
"In Bond Street. In broad daylight." His voice was completely without inflection.
It would serve him right if she did turn and kiss him, really it would.
She huffed a breath. They'd slowed to a walk now and she patted the horse's neck, its hair smooth and slightly oily beneath her fingers. It snorted as if agreeing with her opinion of Captain Trevillion. "I can't think what they wanted with me in any case."
"Kidnapping for ransom, forced marriage, or mere robbery come to mind immediately, my lady," he drawled. "You are, after all, the sister of one of the richest and most powerful men in England."
Phoebe wrinkled her nose. "Has anyone ever told you that you're excessively blunt, Captain Trevillion?"
"Only you, my lady." He seemed to have turned his head, for she could feel the brush of his breath against her temple. It smelled very faintly of coffee. "On numerous occasions."
"Well, let me take this opportunity to add to them," she said. "Where are we now?"
"Nearing Wakefield House, my lady."
And with his words, Phoebe suddenly realized the full ghastliness of the situation. Maximus.
She immediately started babbling. "Oh! You know my brother is terribly busy today, what with gathering support for the new act—"
"Parliament isn't in session."
"It takes months sometimes," she said earnestly. "Very important! And… and that estate in Yorkshire is flooding. I'm sure it kept him up half the night. Was it Yorkshire?" she asked with disingenuous desperation. "Or Northumberland? I never can remember, they're both so very far north. In any case, I really don't think we ought to bother him."
"My lady," Captain Trevillion said with stubborn male finality, "I shall be escorting you to your room, where you might recover—"
"I'm not a little child," Lady Phoebe interrupted mutinously.
"Perhaps have some tea—"
"Or pap. It's what my nanny always used to give us in the nursery and I loathed it."
"And then I shall report today's events to His Grace," Trevillion finished, not at all perturbed by her interruptions.
And that was exactly what she was trying to forestall. When Maximus learned of this morning's debacle he'd use it to hobble her even further.
She wasn't entirely sure she'd not go insane if that happened. "Sometimes I rather dislike you, Captain Trevillion."
"I am most gratified that it's only sometimes, my lady," he replied, and he brought the horse to a halt with a murmur of approval for the animal.
Drat. They must already be at Wakefield House.
She caught one of his hands in a last-ditch effort, holding it between her far smaller palms. "Must you tell him? I'd really rather you not. Please? For me?" Silly to make a personal appeal—the man didn't seem to care for anyone, let alone her—but there it was: she was desperate.
"I'm sorry, my lady," he said, not sounding sorry at all, "but I work for your brother. I'll not shirk my duty by keeping something so important from him."
He disentangled his hand from hers, leaving her fingers holding empty air.
"Oh, if it's your duty, then," she said, not bothering to keep the disappointment from her voice, "far be it for me to stand in your way."
It'd been a rather wild hope anyway. She should've known that Captain Trevillion was too bloodless to be moved by entreaties aimed at his nonexistent compassion.
He ignored her surliness.
"Stay," he said, rather as if she were a particularly silly canine, and then belatedly added, "my lady." And she felt the sudden absence of his heat as he dismounted behind her.
She huffed, but obeyed because she wasn't nearly such a ninny as he seemed to think her sometimes.
"Cap'n!" That was the voice of their newest footman, Reed, who had a tendency to lapse into a Cockney accent when he was hurried.
"Get Hathaway and Green," Captain Trevillion ordered.
Phoebe heard the footman running—presumably back into Wakefield House—then several raised male voices and more footsteps, traveling here and there. It was all so confusing. She still sat atop the horse, stranded, unable to dismount alone, and suddenly she realized she hadn't heard Trevillion's voice in quite a while. Had he already gone in?
The horse shifted beneath her, stepping back.
She grabbed for its mane, feeling off-balance, feeling afraid. "Captain."
"I'm right here," he said, his deep voice quite close at her knee. "I haven't left you, my lady. I'd never leave you."
Relief flooded her even as she snapped, "Well, I can't tell if you don't move and I can't smell you."
"Smell me like you do the Thames?" She felt Trevillion's big hands about her waist, competent and gentle as he lifted her from the saddle. "On the whole, I'd prefer not to stink of fish in order for you to identify me."
"Obviously perfume would be more the thing."
"I find the thought of being drenched in patchouli equally distasteful, my lady."
"Not patchouli. It'd have to be something more masculine," she replied, her thoughts diverted to scents and the possibilities as he set her on the ground. "Perhaps quite dark."
"If you say so, my lady." His voice held polite doubt.
Trevillion wrapped his left arm about her shoulders. Probably he had one of his awful big guns in his right hand. She felt him lurch just a little as he stepped forward and realized suddenly that he must've lost his cane. Dash it! He shouldn't be walking without it. She knew his leg pained him awfully.
"Phoebe!" Oh, dear, that was Cousin Bathilda Picklewood's voice. "Whatever's happened?"
There was a shrill bark and then the patter of paws before Phoebe felt Mignon, Cousin Bathilda's darling little spaniel, jump at her skirts.
Cousin Bathilda's "Mignon, down!" clashed with Trevillion's deeper tone saying, "If you'll just let me bring her inside, ma'am."
And then they were climbing the front steps to Wakefield House.
"I'm quite all right," Phoebe said, because she didn't want Cousin Bathilda worrying unnecessarily. "But Captain Trevillion's lost his stick and I really think he ought to have another."
"Sir." That was Reed again.
"Reed," Trevillion snapped, completely ignoring both Phoebe and Cousin Bathilda. Men. "I want you and Hathaway to accompany Lady Phoebe to her rooms and stay with her there until I order otherwise."
"Oh, for goodness' sake," Phoebe said as they made the threshold and for some reason Mignon began yapping excitedly, "I hardly need two—"
"My lady—" Trevillion started ponderously. Oh, she knew that tone of voice.
"I don't understand," Cousin Bathilda began.
And then a baritone voice cut across the commotion, sending an absolute thrill of dread down her spine.
"What the hell is going on?" asked her brother, Maximus Batten, the Duke of Wakefield.
TALL AND LEAN with a long, lined face, the Duke of Wakefield carried his rank as another man might carry a sword—no matter how ceremonial it looked, the blade was sharp and deadly when put to use.
Trevillion bowed to his employer. "Lady Phoebe is unhurt, Your Grace, but I have matters to report."
Wakefield arched a dark eyebrow beneath his white wig.
Trevillion held the other man's gaze. Wakefield might have been a duke but Trevillion was more than used to staring down irate superior officers. Meanwhile his lower right leg shot daggers of pain up to his hip and he prayed that it wouldn't choose now of all occasions to give out on him.
The front hallway had grown quiet the moment the duke had entered. Even Miss Picklewood's lapdog had stopped barking.
Lady Phoebe shifted under his arm, her petite body warm beside his, before sighing heavily into the silence. "Nothing happened, Maximus. Really, there's no need—"
"Phoebe." Wakefield's voice halted her attempted deflection.
Trevillion's arm tightened about her small shoulders for just a moment before he let it drop. "Go with Miss Picklewood, my lady."
If his voice had been capable of being gentle he might've made it so now. Her light-brown hair was coming down around her slender shoulders, her round cheeks pink from the wind of their ride, her mouth a reddened rosebud. She looked young and a little lost, though she stood in her own ancestral home. He wanted rather badly to go to her and take her into his arms again. To offer comfort where it was neither needed nor wanted. Something in his chest ached—just once, briefly—before he shoved it down and covered it with all the reasons his instinctive reactions were impossible—and foolish to boot.
Instead he turned to the footmen. "Reed."
Reed had formerly been a soldier under his command. He was tall and on the thin side, his narrow chest not quite filling out his livery. His hands and feet were too large for his frame, his knees and elbows knobby and awkward. But his eyes were sharp in his unhandsome face. Reed nodded, having received and understood the command without needing further instruction. He jerked his chin at Hathaway, a young stripling of only nineteen summers, and both men fell into step behind the ladies as Miss Picklewood guided Lady Phoebe away.
Lady Phoebe was muttering about overbearing gentlemen as she left, and Trevillion had to bite back a smile.
"Captain." The duke's voice chased any desire to smile from Trevillion's mind. Wakefield tilted his head toward the back of the house, where his study lay, before pivoting in that direction.
Wakefield House was one of the largest private residences in London and the corridor they now traversed was long. Trevillion's leg grew progressively worse as they passed elegant statuary, the door to the Little Library, and a sitting room before arriving at the duke's study. The room wasn't big, but it was well appointed in dark wood and had a plush, jewel-colored carpet.
Wakefield closed the door before rounding the enormous carved desk and seating himself.
Normally Trevillion would stand before His Grace, but it was simply impossible today, rank be damned. He dropped rather clumsily into one of the chairs before the desk just as the study door opened again to reveal Craven.
The manservant was built a bit like a walking scarecrow: tall, thin, and of ambiguous age—he could have been anywhere from his thirtieth year to his sixtieth. He was nominally the duke's valet, but very shortly after entering Wakefield's employ Trevillion had realized the man was much more than that.
"Your Grace," Craven said.
Wakefield nodded at the man. "Lady Phoebe."
"I see." The manservant closed the door behind him and came to stand at the side of the desk.
Both men looked at Trevillion.
"Four men on Bond Street," Trevillion reported.
Craven's eyebrows arched nearly to his hairline.
Wakefield swore under his breath. "Bond Street?"
"Yes, Your Grace. I shot two of them, procured a horse, and spirited Lady Phoebe away from the danger."
"Did they say anything?" The duke frowned.
"No, Your Grace."
"Anything to identify them?"
Trevillion thought a moment, replaying the events of the afternoon in his mind to make sure he hadn't missed any detail. "No, Your Grace."
Craven cleared his throat very quietly. "Maywood?"
Wakefield scowled. "Surely not. The man would have to be mad."
The valet coughed. "His lordship has been uncommonly persistent in wanting to buy your land in Lancashire, Your Grace. We received another letter with quite uncivil language just yesterday."
"The fool thinks I don't know that it has coal seams." Wakefield looked disgusted. "Why the man is so barmy over coal, I haven't the foggiest."
"I understand that he thinks it can be used to fuel large mechanical machines." Craven studied the ceiling.
For a moment Wakefield looked distracted. "Truly?"
"Who is Maywood?" Trevillion asked.
Wakefield turned to him. "Viscount Maywood. A neighbor of mine in Lancashire and a bit of a crackpot. A few years ago he was going on about turnips, of all things."
"Crackpot or no, he was heard to make threats against your person, Your Grace," Craven gently reminded.
"Me. Threats against me, not my sister," Wakefield replied.
Trevillion kneaded his right thigh, trying to think. "How would hurting your sister help him with his coal scheme?"
Wakefield waved an impatient hand. "It wouldn't."
"Hurting Lady Phoebe wouldn't, Your Grace," Craven said softly, "but if he were to kidnap her and hold her until you agreed to sell the land… or worse, force her to marry his son…"
"Maywood's heir is married already," Wakefield growled.
Craven shook his head. "The boy's marriage was to a lady of the Catholic persuasion and, as I understand it, not recognized by the Church of England. Thus Maywood has declared his son's nuptials invalid."
Trevillion's lips tightened at the idea of anyone's forcing Phoebe into a loveless marriage—let alone a bigamous loveless marriage. "Is Maywood mad enough to try such a thing, Your Grace?"
Wakefield leaned back in his chair and stared fixedly at the papers on his desk, deep in thought.
Abruptly he brought his fist down on the tabletop with a bang, making everything rattle. "Yes. Yes, Maywood might be that insane—and stupid. Damn it, Craven, I won't have Phoebe's life put in danger because of me."
"No, Your Grace," the valet agreed. "Shall I look into the matter?"
"Do. I want definite answers before I move on the man," Wakefield said.
Trevillion shifted uneasily. "We should investigate other suspects in the meantime. The man behind the kidnapping attempt might not be Maywood at all."
"You're right. Craven, we'll want a general investigation as well."
"Very good, Your Grace."
Wakefield's gaze suddenly lifted, pinning Trevillion. "Thank you, Trevillion, for saving my sister today."
Trevillion inclined his head. "It's my job, Your Grace."
"Yes." The duke's gaze was pointed. "Can you continue to protect her with that leg?"
Trevillion stiffened. He had his own doubts, but he wasn't going to air them here. Simply put, no one else was good enough to guard Lady Phoebe. "Yes, Your Grace."
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- On Sale
- May 26, 2015
- Page Count
- 352 pages