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A Rogue by Night
By Kelly Bowen
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Katherine thought she was done smuggling. Having finally convinced her ailing father and injured brother to abandon their criminal pursuits, she’s returned to England to help them escape to a new life–once she helps them fulfill their last contract. And that means working with Hayward, even when her instincts tell her that becoming his ally may be a risk to her heart – as well as her life.
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Once again, a heartfelt thank-you to Stefanie Lieberman, my agent; Alex Logan, my editor; and everyone at Forever who works so hard on my behalf. Each book is a team effort and mine is second to none.
And a special thank-you to my readers and the entire romance community. You have made this journey one of joy.
Dover, England, 1820
The bullet wound, as far as bullet wounds went, was not dreadful.
The bullet had caught her patient at the top of the shoulder, punching a messy hole in flesh and muscle, but not shattering bone. The icy cold of the sea had slowed the bleeding and the fact that he had been half-naked and shirtless at the time meant no remnants of fabric would be caught deep in the tissue. More concerning was the long gash that ran beneath the bullet hole, across the muscles of his upper back. The gaping, bloody edges would require a substantial number of stitches, and unlike the bullet wound, neither the cold nor the sea had slowed the bleeding much.
"Jesus, Kate, are you trying to kill me all over again?" The question was accompanied by a groan.
Katherine Wright increased the pressure she was applying to the wound, watching as the linen turned scarlet in the pool of lantern light. "Maybe I should." She kept her voice steady, though inside she was shaking with fury. "If only to keep the damn soldiers from having the satisfaction of doing so."
From the front corner of the cottage, her father wheezed, his laughter made ominous by the rattling in his lungs. "Stop your whining, lad, or your sister might just decide to get careless with her wee knives." The meager light from the hearth illuminated his wizened profile.
There were a couple of snickers from the rest of the men crowded in the tiny abode who had carried her brother in. Most of the men she recognized, a couple she had never seen. Katherine glared up at them, and the snickers faded. She wished she had drawn the heavy curtain she'd put up in the center of the cottage for those times when she and a patient needed privacy.
"Get out," she ordered the lot of them.
In response, they scuffed their feet and looked uncertainly between Katherine and her patient.
From where he lay facedown on the table, her brother lifted his head and tried to look back at her. "There's no call for—"
"Stop talking, Matthew, or I'll let one of these loggerheads sew you up. And then you'll have a scar of the likes you don't want to consider."
Matthew's forehead came to rest on the table again. His dark blond hair was still wet and twisted strands fell forward against the sides of his face. "I'm told women like their men with scars."
"Women like their men safe," she gritted out through clenched teeth, still glaring at the assembled crowd. "Not shot and at the wrong end of a blade."
Matthew grunted. "Kate—"
"Off with you then, lads," her father said, his voice like gravel. "Let her do her work. Go home, keep your heads down, and let the soldiers chase their tails for the rest of the night. Matty will be right as rain by morning."
The men muttered but obeyed the order, and one by one they vanished soundlessly into the darkness. Katherine knew they would each go in a different direction, slipping through the blackness like wraiths in the night, evading the blockade men and patrols who hunted the coast for prey. Since she'd been a child, she had watched as smugglers deliberately scattered, men with generations of experience behind them. She had watched her father do it. Watched her brother do it. When she had gotten older, she had done it as well.
But occasionally, they weren't as invisible as they thought. And the proof of that was still bleeding all over her table.
"They didn't follow you here, did they?" Katherine asked her brother. "The soldiers?"
"Don't be daft."
"I'm not being daft. I'm being careful. Something you might want to do more of." She peeled back the linen and grimaced at the gaping wound, though the bleeding was starting to ebb. She despised deep cuts like this. Forget the deeper damage to the muscle tissue; wounds like this could fester.
"We lost them in the tunnels." Matthew's words were muffled against the table.
"You're sure? If you were bleeding, you'd have left a trail—"
"I'm sure, dammit."
"How did they know you'd be in that cove?"
"Someone must have tipped the patrols off," her father answered.
Katherine glanced up at her father. He had stood and pulled back the heavy fabric covering the small window at the front of the cottage, peering out into the darkness. Wrapped as he was in the bulky blanket, he almost looked like his brawny former self. Before he'd been shot. Before his lungs had weakened and deteriorated.
"What was it tonight?" she asked Matthew. "Silk? Tea?"
"Brandy. From Boulogne," he replied. "The patrols were hidden on the beach, waiting for us to retrieve it. Didn't see them until it was almost too late."
"Almost?" Katherine asked angrily. "Dammit, Matt, do you have any idea what your back looks like?"
"It was hard to run in the surf, at least until I got deep enough to swim. But I drew them out, and they couldn't run either. The other boys got away clean, and that's all that matters."
"You matter. Your life matters. And you almost lost it—"
"Those men, those boys, are my crew, Kate. My responsibility. What kind of leader am I if I don't lead?"
"You said that you would stop doing this, Matt." Katherine pulled a candelabra closer and reached for her suture kit. "You promised me."
Her brother mumbled something unintelligible into the table.
"What was that?"
"He asked how you think we're all to eat if he stops," her father said harshly from his post at the window. "How we're supposed to keep a roof over our heads and coal in the hearth in winter. How we're going to pay for the medicine you keep stuffing down my throat every time you get the chance. That all takes coin, lass."
Katherine set her kit aside. "I earn—"
"You earn the occasional chicken," her father said wearily. "A handful of carrots, or a measure of dried herring if you're lucky."
"I can't not help someone who needs me," she snapped.
"Aye, I know that. And you've a rare gift for healing, and this parish and its people desperately need you, especially now. But they have nothing, and thus, neither do you."
"You almost died at the hands of the king's men, Father. Five inches is all that kept Matthew from dying tonight from another soldier's bullet. You—" She stopped, trying to keep her voice from rising. "You speak of having nothing. If the two of you die for the sake of a bale of smuggled tobacco or a tub of brandy, then I'll truly have nothing."
"I'm not so easy to kill." Her father was still looking out into the darkness.
"And neither am I," Matthew added irritably from the table. "French artillery and guns couldn't do it. A handful of leftover Englishmen with inferior weapons and high-strung horses will not be able to do what the French could not."
Katherine suppressed the urge to throw something. "Are you not hearing what I'm trying to say? I—"
"Douse the light," her father said, his voice hard with urgency. "We've company."
Katherine immediately blew out the candles surrounding the table. She reached for the lantern hanging above her head on its hook and extinguished that, too, fear spiking and making her pulse pound. "Soldiers?"
"Can't tell." Her father shuffled across the darkened space, illuminated now only by the dim light struggling from the hearth. He stopped beside the only other window in the cottage, on the far side of the door, and eased back its covering.
Katherine moved slowly around the table, reaching for the long curtain that hung from a rope across the center of the cottage and drew it closed. The heavy fabric concealed the rear of the cottage from the view of anyone at the door, but it would be a poor solution in the face of a regiment of soldiers hunting for a smuggler.
There was, however, a space beneath the floor, big enough for a man to crouch in, accessible from a trapdoor. She eyed the corner of the bed that her father and brother shared, just visible in the gloom. It would need to be pushed away from the wall, and the threadbare rug peeled back if she were to get her brother hidden.
She took a step closer to her brother. "You need to hide."
"There's not time. Get me the rifle." Matthew staggered to his feet, swaying slightly and reaching for the edge of the table to steady himself. His breathing was shallow and labored.
He kept a rifle near the cottage door, always loaded with fresh powder. Though Katherine doubted very much that Matthew would be able to manage the heavy weapon in his state. And she knew that her father couldn't.
Without considering what she was doing, she slipped past the curtain, stole across the dimly lit space, and snatched up the gun.
"Single horse and rider," her father warned from the window.
That was better than a posse of soldiers, but it still didn't bode well.
"Bring that damn gun back here," her brother whispered weakly. She saw the curtain twitch and knew he was watching her.
Outside, the sound of boots on the packed earth was faint but unmistakable.
Katherine swallowed hard, raising the gun to her shoulder and leveling the muzzle at the door.
"Jesus Christ, Kate, get away from that door and bring me the gun." Matthew's demand was both faint and desperate.
"Do what he says, lass," her father pleaded.
"Sit down before you fall down, Matthew," Katherine murmured in a voice that sounded surprisingly steady in her own ears. "You've lost a lot of blood. Keep the curtain closed. And you stay where you are, Father."
There was a soft tap on the door, and the latch creaked. The door opened a crack. Katherine felt her brows draw together, even as she adjusted her grasp on the stock. Soldiers would not have knocked first. At least not that quietly.
"Mr. Wright?" The voice was low and male. The door swung open a little farther, and a tall figure carrying a bulky bag of some sort ducked carefully into the cottage. "Mr. Wri—" He stopped abruptly, and Katherine guessed he had finally seen her silhouetted in the firelight. And the gun she was holding.
From the side of the room, her father muttered something under his breath and moved from the window. He ducked past the man and shoved the door closed, though not before he scanned the darkness beyond. "Dr. Hayward," he said by way of greeting. "Welcome."
"Mmm," the doctor replied drily, gazing at Katherine. "I'm not so sure I am."
Katherine lowered the gun and set it back against the wall. She put a hand out to anchor herself, the tension abruptly broken and leaving her a little more wobbly than she'd like. She tried to will her heart back into a normal rhythm.
Not a soldier, but a doctor. One who spent his summers in Dover with his family and saw to a great deal of the county's medical needs while he was here. Katherine had never actually met him in the short time that she'd been back, but she'd seen him at a distance, usually accompanied by pretty young women who seemed to hang on his every word. Which wasn't surprising because Dr. Hayward was not only a doctor, but a baron as well. A wealthy, widowed baron. Which was surprising.
And made no sense to Katherine at all. Because rich, titled men did not labor in such professions. They did not lower themselves to toil in a field hallmarked by disease and blood and gore. They didn't spend time worrying about people who did not possess an address west of Haymarket, London. And they certainly didn't prowl the back roads of Dover on a night like this when the air was heavy with the promise of rain.
Which, altogether, made the baron's sudden presence here inordinately suspicious. She wasn't about to test the doctor's discretion recklessly. Who knew what Harland Hayward—Baron Strathmore—did or didn't know about what went on along the shores of Kent County? And where his allegiances might lie? To king and country or to the peasants who struggled to survive both? Baron Strathmore was a grand lord, after all.
He was certainly not one of them.
Katherine deliberately did not look back to where her brother remained concealed. "What do you want?" It was abrupt and rude, but with Matthew still bleeding behind her, she needed this baron-turned-doctor to leave.
"Miss Wright, I presume?" The baron hadn't moved from where he stood in the shadows. Nor did he sound the least bit offended by her utter lack of decorum. "Your father has told me a lot about you."
Katherine's eyes narrowed. Well, her father certainly hadn't returned the favor. She hadn't even realized that he was well acquainted with the baron. Everything she knew about Strathmore she had gleaned from gossip as she worked. Strathmore's youngest sister was the new Countess of Rivers. His oldest sister was a bloody duchess. They all stayed at Avondale House, the imposing manor outside of Dover, perched on the cliffs overlooking the sea. A nest teeming with grand titles and insufferable pomposity, no doubt.
She shot a glance in her father's direction, but he ignored her, concentrating on relighting the candles, though not fast enough for Katherine's liking. She wanted—needed—to see this Lord Doctor clearly, to see his face and read the nuances of his expression.
"Yes," she replied finally into the silence, acknowledging her identity but ignoring his suggestion that he was familiar with anything about her. "Again, I'd ask what you want—"
"He's come to help you, lass," her father grumbled as he bent to retrieve the lantern and set to lighting it again.
"If you need it, of course," Strathmore added, sounding merely pleasant and polite.
Katherine was not at all prepared with a story to explain Matthew's bullet wound to his lordship any more than she was prepared to trust Strathmore with the truth. "I have no idea what you're talking about—"
A crash reverberated through the room, and Katherine spun. The table behind the curtain had upended and torn the fabric from its moorings. On top of the heavy wool, caught in the table legs, Matthew was inelegantly sprawled.
"That," the baron said in that annoyingly calm way of his. "I was talking about that."
Katherine jerked into action, cursing under her breath and hurrying forward. She dropped to her knees beside Matthew. In the soft light, she could see that his eyes were closed, his face pale. A dark, rusty stain was smeared over the surface of the wool where it had come into contact with his wound as he fell. She cursed again and pushed the crumpled fabric away from where it had bunched across his hips.
On the other side of the overturned table, her father hovered above her with the lantern, a worried expression on his face. "Is he all right?"
"He's merely fainted because he came in here bleeding like a stuck pig." Katherine put her fingers beneath Matthew's chin, searching for his pulse, relieved to find that it still beat steadily beneath her touch. She withdrew her hand. "Which is why I told him to sit down before he fell down."
"Brothers," came a voice by her ear, "rarely do what they're told. At least that's what my sisters tell me."
Katherine started, not having heard Strathmore crouch beside her.
"Bullet or blade?" he asked almost conversationally.
"Both," she said with a frown, not taking her eyes off Matthew.
The baron leaned forward, his long, graceful fingers sliding over Matthew's scalp in sure movements, searching, Katherine surmised, for any lumps that he might have suffered in the fall.
The baron has incredible hands, she thought. They were not the hands of a soft, pampered peer, but the capable hands of a man used to working. Hands that were used to soothe and discover and communicate— She averted her eyes. She should not be noticing a baron's hands while her brother languished insentient and bleeding in a pile at her feet.
Those hands had stopped, and he pushed the wool farther away from Matthew's shoulder. "Ah. Yes, I see the exit wound now. He was lucky. Minimal damage, more bruising to the muscle than anything else, I think. This the only bullet wound?"
"Mmm. And the laceration? That is on his back, then?"
"Yes." She couldn't really see Strathmore's face, his thick, dark hair falling carelessly over his ears and concealing his features. She tried not to notice his nearness or the warmth she could feel from his body.
"Has it been sutured?"
"Not yet." Katherine studied the back of his head. The baron wasn't asking the obvious questions. Like how her brother had come to be shot and wounded. Or why Katherine had greeted him at the door with a leveled gun. He hadn't asked any question that wasn't clinical in nature. He hadn't even expressed surprise or dismay or disapproval. She really didn't understand this man at all.
And she didn't like what she didn't understand.
The baron rocked back on his heels and pushed himself to his feet. "Well, then, let's get him back up on the table so we can get his laceration sutured, shall we? I need to examine the severity of the wound."
Well. The baron might not be asking the expected questions, but he was certainly giving the expected orders.
"You don't have to do anything, my lord," Katherine said coolly. "I can assure you that my brother is in good hands under my care." She had lost count of the number of times that a physician or a surgeon—a male physician or surgeon—had inserted himself into a situation, dismissing her and her talents amid a fog of condescension. That was not about to happen here. Not when it came to her own brother.
She got to her feet and turned to face the baron in the light for the first time.
Her mouth went dry.
Viewed from a distance, he had struck her as attractive. Standing as close as he was in the soft light, Katherine realized he was not merely attractive—he was striking. He was long-limbed and lean, his simple clothes doing nothing to hide the strong lines of his body. His hair was a rich mahogany, pushed carelessly away from a face crafted of impeccable angles—sharp cheekbones, a straight nose, a strong jaw. His eyes were dark beneath his brow, and they were watching her without expression.
Her insides did a slow, horrifying somersault, and she could feel a flush start to creep into her cheeks. No wonder he had women hanging on his every word. At another time in her life, a time long past, perhaps she might have been one of them.
"Doctor is fine," the baron said.
"I'm sorry?" Katherine had lost her train of thought.
"My title, I find, is more of a hindrance than a help when I'm attending my patients."
"He's not your patient, my lord." Whatever unwanted and unwelcome reaction she had just suffered was instantly cured by a healthy dose of irritation. "He's mine."
Strathmore held her eyes for a moment longer before looking down at her brother. "Of course."
Katherine blinked. He wasn't going to argue?
"Though perhaps you might need help getting him up?"
She blinked again, wary of his motivations. The Lord Doctor was being far too reasonable and agreeable. But he was also right. Her father, still hovering with the lantern, didn't have the strength to lift such a deadweight. And alone, neither did she. Matthew was not a small man.
"Yes, thank you." She swallowed her pride with effort and tried to sound at least a little gracious. "I would appreciate it."
Strathmore nodded and bent, carefully pulling the table away. As he heaved it upright, Matthew groaned, and his eyes fluttered open. He stared up at the ceiling with an expression of dazed confusion before his eyes found Katherine.
"You fell over," she said before he could speak.
Matthew winced and raised his head.
"You really should have listened to your sister," Strathmore added as he settled the heavy, wide table back in place.
"Hayward," Matthew grunted, and let his head fall back. "You don't need to take her side. I've had a trying night. Have a little sympathy."
From the far side of the table, her father barked out a laugh, and the shadows from the lantern light danced off the walls.
Katherine scowled. She did not see the humor. And was everyone in her family on familiar terms with the Lord Doctor? Something that they'd failed entirely to mention?
The baron straightened from the table. "How are you feeling?"
"Like I've been bloody well shot." Matthew grimaced and struggled to push himself to his good side. "Help me up."
Strathmore glanced at Katherine. "You take a side, I'll take the other. We'll try not to do any more damage than what's already been done."
Katherine sighed and did as she was instructed because to argue for the sake of argument was petty and ridiculous. Between them, they helped Matthew to his feet and eased him back onto the table so that he was once again lying facedown. A sheen of sweat had broken out on Matthew's forehead, and he hissed in pain as he moved.
"Well, that is a bit of a mess." Strathmore bent slightly to peer at her brother's upper back.
"I've been told." Matthew rested his forehead on the table.
"A jealous husband, was it?" The baron sounded amused now. "Didn't get out that window fast enough?"
"Something like that," Matthew mumbled.
Katherine eyed Strathmore. He seemed happy to accept Matthew's nonanswer answer.
"Well, are you going to fix him up, lass, or are you going to stare at the doctor all night?" Her father laughed again, though it quickly dissolved into another round of coughing.
Katherine would have been incensed had she not been so worried about the sound of his chest.
"Why don't you come sit back down by the hearth, Mr. Wright?" the baron asked easily. He glanced at Katherine in question, and she gave him a curt but grateful nod.
She busied herself retrieving the basin of water and the clean towels she had set aside earlier, though she watched Strathmore out of the corner of her eye the entire time. The Lord Doctor took the lantern from her father and hung it back up on its hook in the ceiling. He was now settling her father back in his chair, tucking his blanket around him with an endearing gentleness that made her heart turn over. She could hear the baron murmuring something to her father, and though she couldn't make out the words, she saw her father nod his head a few times.
Are you going to stare at the doctor all night?
Katherine snatched up her suture kit, turning away from Strathmore. She wasn't going to stare at him at all. Because the Lord Doctor was not endearing. He was unwanted.
She set to cleaning up the new blood that had leaked from Matthew's wound and fetched the bottle of brandy from the sideboard behind her. Smuggled French brandy. Ironic that she should be using it on wounds earned in acquisition of the damn stuff.
She returned to the table, stuffing towels along the edge of Matthew's torso before opening the bottle. "This might sting a bit," was all the warning she gave to her brother before she poured half the contents over his wounds.
Matthew jerked and choked, his hands gripping the edge of the table so hard his knuckles were white. A loud string of curses exploded.
"You could have given him more warning."
Katherine almost dropped the bottle. She hadn't heard Strathmore approach her side. Again.
"Better to just have done with it," she said as her brother cursed under her touch. "Better, too, if he never had cause for me to do it in the first place," she said more loudly.
She poured a measure of liquor into a cup and dropped her needles in, wiping her hands on the brandy-soaked towels. "You don't have to stay," she said to the baron without looking at him.
"I've nowhere else to be." He reached for the brandy bottle. She could hear him inhale. "Good stuff, this," he said with a note of approval. "Cases of this sell for a bloody fortune in London."
That was exactly the problem. And that was also why Strathmore wasn't endearing. Because comments like that encouraged her brother and, for that matter, her father. Convinced them that their fortunes could be found in contraband.
- On Sale
- May 28, 2019
- Page Count
- 368 pages