Life hasn’t been too kind to talented artist, Lizbeth Davenport for the last few years.
Her entire family was wiped out by influenza, leaving her alone in the world. Then she was unfairly fired from the job that was her sole support which led to her being kidnapped and sold to a brothel. Now that she’s free she’s ready to move on with her life, but the anger still festers that no one paid the price for kidnapping her.
Even though his family has been pushing him toward marriage, Marcus Mallory has no desire for the confinement of the wedded state. He enjoys the company of the ladies and likes his life the way it is. Since he is attempting to have a bill passed on sex slavery in the House of Commons he is requested to help rescue Lizbeth from the brothel. Aside from the attraction he feels toward her, he also bears a sense of responsibility for her welfare.
When he discovers Lizbeth’s plan to bring down the people who are running the sex slavery ring, he insists on working with her, but will his growing attraction to Lizbeth ever be returned by this woman who cannot stand a man’s touch?
“I can assure you, sir, that I have no idea how that brooch got into my reticule. I certainly didn’t put it there. I have never stolen anything in my life.” Lizbeth frowned at the expensive piece of jewelry that was to be used for a special-order hat.
In the three years she had worked at the hat factory, she’d been a hard worker and been rewarded with a raise in pay each year. She was one of the few who did. But now she was being accused of stealing a brooch!
“Well, young lady, it’s plain as day that you intended to take this brooch home.” The guard who checked them at the exit door each evening waved the item in her face and glared at her.
A slight bit of fear rose in Lizbeth’s middle. Surely, they understood it was a mistake. Being on her own, this job was her only means of support.READ MORE
For nearly the first year after she’d arrived in Bath, she managed to live on the funds she’d gotten from the sale of her house and Papa’s final solicitor fees. Minding her pennies, she’d been able to devote all her time to her art. However, she soon learned that with the size of the city of Bath, obtaining an art show for an unknown artist was much more difficult than it had been in her little town.
Her rent took a good portion of her money, plus food was more expensive, and any extra pennies were spent on art supplies. When her funds ran out, she reluctantly put her dream aside and took a job in the hat factory, always hoping one day she would not be so exhausted from working long hours and be able to return to her passion.
Lizbeth tried again, her mouth growing dry with anxiety. “I must once more explain to you that my reticule was on a shelf with the other ladies’, so anyone could have put it in there, thinking it was their own.”
The guard shrugged. “Don’t matter to me. It’s your bag, so you’re the thief.” He pointed to the chair across from him. “Sit there.”
Her stomach cramped and her heartbeat sped up. If she lost this job, she would be homeless in no time. She’d been foolish to spend the extra money from each week’s wages on art supplies. A lot of good that would do her when she was painting on the street. Or, she thought with a gulp, in a jail cell.
Lizbeth looked up as Mr. Longhorn, his glasses perched on the bridge of his nose strolled down the corridor with the guard. “Miss Davenport?”
She stood, amazed that her shaky legs held her up. “Yes.”
“Come with me, please.” He turned and walked off, not even looking back to see if she followed. Of course she did. She had no choice.
Once they were in the manager’s office he waved at a chair in front of his desk and took his position behind it. “It appears our guard caught a thief.” His smile was as fake as paste jewelry.
“No.” She wiped the sweat from her upper lip. “I know the brooch was found in my reticule, but I didn’t put it there.”
Mr. Longhorn’s brows rose. “Indeed? I suppose it walked from where it was stored to be used on a special order right into your possession?”
Lizbeth sighed. “I already explained to Mr. Fester at the door. All of our reticules are stored on the same shelf. Anyone could have put it in there.”
“For what purpose? Just to get you fired?”
Her heart skipped a beat. That answered the question about whether she would keep her job. “No. I’m thinking perhaps someone was going to steal it and put it in my bag by mistake.”
Mr. Longhorn tapped his pencil on the desk and stared at her over the top of his glasses. “Since you might have a point, I will not contact the police. However, you are fired.” He waved at the door. “You may leave now.”
“Wait a minute!” She held up her hand, desperation in her voice. “If I had intended to steal it, why would I put it in my reticule knowing it’s searched every evening as we leave?”
“That is not my concern, Miss Davenport. The evidence is right there.” He pointed to the cursed brooch sitting in the middle of his desk.
Her shoulders slumped. With no job and no reference since she was being fired for stealing, it might have been better if Mr. Longhorn had turned her over to the police. At least then she would have a roof over her head and food.
She gathered her dignity and left the room, walking down the corridor on shaky legs past the guard, Mr. Fester, who handed over her reticule and nodded in her direction like it was any other night, and not a disaster for her.
The air was cool, and the sky gray as she left the building for the last time. Her spirits were as low as the weather. Whatever would she do? She tried her best to keep the tears from falling but was unsuccessful. She wiped her cheeks and took a deep breath. She’d gone no more than a few steps when an older woman approached her.
“My dear, you look so distraught. Is there anything I can do to help you?” She eyed her with sympathy which was the wrong thing to do since that only opened up a flood of tears.
“I’m afraid not. I was just fired from my job.”
The woman sucked in a deep breath. “Oh, no. How terrible for you. That is an awful thing to happen. I am so sorry, my dear.” She paused for a minute. “I don’t mean to be forward, but may I offer you some tea? My name is Mrs. O’Leary. I own a boarding house for young women only a few streets from here.”
Since her brain refused to work, only allowing the word fired to repeat over and over again in her head with a sickening cadence, Lizbeth nodded numbly and allowed the woman to lead her along.
“What is your name, dear?”
Lizbeth looked into Mrs. O’Leary’s sympathetic eyes. “Miss Lizbeth Davenport.”
Mrs. O’Leary nodded and kept up a constant chatter as they wound their way through the streets to a less busy one with a number of structures that appeared to be boarding houses.
“Here we are, dear.” She climbed the steps and the door was opened by the man in dark pants, a waistcoat, jacket, and ascot who bowed at the two of them. “Good afternoon, Mrs. O’Leary.”
“Good afternoon, Mr. Andrews. This is Miss Davenport who has come for tea.”
Mr. Andrews bowed, and Mrs. O’Leary led her to the back of the house to a large, well-equipped kitchen. “Just sit there, dear, and I’ll make the tea. I have food left from dinner that I will be happy to offer you.”
Lizbeth shook her head. If she attempted to put anything in her stomach with the way it was roiling, it wouldn’t last long. “No. Thank you, but the tea will be fine for now.”
Once the teapot was on the table and they sat across from each other, Mrs. O’Leary patted Lizbeth’s hand. “Tell me what happened.”
Lizbeth took a sip of tea and placed the cup in the saucer. “We oftentimes have jewelry or other trinkets that women want to be used in the making of a special-order hat. Today when I was leaving, I handed over my reticule to the man at the door like we do every night for inspection.”
She took another sip and continued. “He found an expensive brooch in my reticule that was to be used for a special order.” Before the kind woman could think badly of her, Lizbeth hurried on. “I didn’t take it. I assure you, Mrs. O’Leary, I have never stolen anything in my life.”
“I’m sure you didn’t, dear. I am a good judge of character and you seem to be trustworthy. Otherwise I wouldn’t have invited you to my home.”
“Thank you.” The kind words brought tears to Lizbeth’s eyes. “I tried to explain that anyone could have taken that brooch and put it into my reticule. I even mentioned to the manager that I would never put it into my reticule when I knew it would be searched. But he dismissed that as not important. The entire thing is confusing.”
“Do you have family to take care of you?”
Lizbeth shook her head. “No. My parents and two brothers died of influenza four years ago. I’m afraid I’m all alone in the world.” More tears.
Mrs. O’Leary studied her for a minute. “Oh, you poor dear. All alone in the world. No husband, either? Or betrothed?”
Lizbeth shook her head. “No. I’m an artist, and when I arrived in Bath, I had intended to pursue my art and possibly have an art show. But that never happened before my money ran out and I took the job at the hat factory.” It felt good to talk to the woman. Being a bit on the shy side, Lizbeth did not make friends easily and the women she worked with were mostly married or supporting fatherless children and had no time for friendship.
Mrs. O’Leary continued to study her. “I have an open room here right now. I would be happy to allow you to use it, free of charge, until you find another position.”
Lizbeth’s eyes widened as she wiped her wet cheeks. “Why would you do that?”
The woman sniffed. “I was once all alone in the world myself. I know how frightening it can be for a young girl. If you are willing to do a few things around the house, changing bed linens, helping with dinner, and such, I think it would work out.”
As much as Lizbeth wanted to jump at the chance, her innate honesty reared its head. “I appreciate your offer, Mrs. O’Leary, but since I was fired for stealing, it might be some time before I find another job.”
Again, the woman patted her hand. “That doesn’t concern me. I have enough boarders that I can give up one room for a good cause.”
Lizbeth leaned back and blew out a breath. “That is wonderful. I can’t believe we accidentally met right outside the factory.” She smiled for the first time in a couple of hours. “I would be happy to take you up on your offer.”
“Excellent. I have a carriage I keep in the mews behind the house. When you are finished with your tea, we will go to your flat and gather your things.”
“Thank you so much. You have no idea how much I appreciate this.”
Mrs. O’Leary merely smiled at her.
Mr. Marcus Mallory, member of the House of Commons and nephew of the Earl of Denbigh, slammed the handful of papers in his hand on his desk in frustration. He’d spent the entire morning trying to get votes in the House of Commons for his bill protecting women and children. It amazed him how something that should be so easy to garner support for continued to flounder. A similar bill had passed the House of Lords twice, but always died in the House of Commons.
Disgusted with the members of Parliament, he strode from the building and made his way to White’s, his favorite gentlemen’s club. Maybe, just maybe, there would be a few friends not involved in Parliament to discuss other matters before he had to dress for the Atkinsons’ ball later.
He took a seat and waved the footman over to bring him a bottle of brandy. As much as he hated attending social events where the mamas of young daughters searched the room like hungry vultures, he had promised his mother he would attend at least two affairs a week.
Mother religiously chastised him at least twice every time she saw him on his reluctance to select a bride and begin to fill his nursery. Reminding her that he had no title to which he owed an obligation since his uncle had three sons, made no impression on her. When things got really desperate, she would drag out her handkerchief and wail about grandchildren.
That was when he reminded her that his sister, Lady Berkshire, was well on her way to producing a babe, said babe also being his mother’s grandchild. Plus, Addie’s husband had come to the marriage with a little boy, Michael, who Mother had fallen in love with and called my grandson. At that reminder, her tears dried up quickly and were replaced with annoyance.
“Mallory. I thought you would be haunting the halls of Parliament trying to wrangle votes for your bill.” Lord Harding, a viscount and active in the House of Lords smiled down at him and took the seat opposite.
A footman appeared with another glass and Harding filled it from the brandy bottle on the table. “Here’s to your success with your bill, although I doubt it will pass this time, either.”
He raised his glass and took a deep swallow. “Will you be gracing Society with your presence tonight at the Atkinsons’ ball? Rumor has it that the man will be announcing the youngest daughter’s betrothal.” Harding said.
Marcus shook his head. “Who’s the poor sap she snared?”
Harding leaned back and propped his ankle on his knee. “Actually, it appears this one is a love match.”
Marcus snorted and downed the brandy in his glass. “No such thing.”
“What about your sister?” Harding grinned. “Wasn’t hers a love match?”
He shrugged. “Who knows. Theirs was a strange beginning and I think at one point she left him because he tried to sell her store out from under her.”
“Ah, not well done, but from when I’ve heard, they are besotted lovebirds and awaiting an addition to the family.”
“Yes.” Marcus stood. The subject of love and marriage made him itchy. “As much as I would love to sit here and wax eloquently about all things romantic, I am off to prepare for the Atkinsons’ ball. I assume you are attending?”
“Yes. In fact, there is a young lady who has caught my eye.”
Marcus’s brows rose. “Do I hear the sound of wedding bells, old friend?”
Harding swirled the liquid in his glass and grinned. “Perhaps.”
Marcus slapped him on the back. “Good luck.” He strode the distance to the door, accepted his coat, hat, and gloves from the man at the door and left the club.
Marcus had developed the reputation of a well-liked and sought-after rake among the ton, vocally uninterested in marriage. He liked it that way. There were plenty of lonely widows to keep his bed warm. Despite his reputation, he did not bed young innocents or unhappily wedded women. As strange as it sounded, he firmly believed in the sanctity of marriage, which was why he eschewed the married state for himself.
Even though the marriage-minded mamas continued to cajole, and even attempt, to trap him, he remained cheerful and well out of their grasp. Recently, however, he’d begun to wonder if his insistence on a lack of desire for a wife was genuine, or merely habit.
Or worse yet, an annoyance to his mother, which sounded quite childish.
He’d ended his arrangement with his latest mistress and found he was not motivated enough to replace her. Perhaps it was time to put this frustrating nonsense with Parliamentary bills and society events aside and visit his sister in Bath and annoy her while she awaited the birth of her child.
He loved his sister, Addie, and was very happy that she’d found someone she loved and who loved her back. However, she was due for a bit of annoyance from her older brother. He grinned at the plan.
Marcus casually leaned against the wall in the Atkinsons’ ballroom and surveyed the crowd. Same people, same gossip, same ratafia to drink. Same unhappy wives, minus their unhappy husbands, clinging to men only too pleased to visit them in their beds while their husbands visited other unhappy women’s boudoirs.
“Why so sour?” James Wilson, an old friend and fellow schoolmate walked up to him, obviously already in his cups.
Even though it was probably not a good idea to attempt a conversation with the man in his present condition, Wilson had hit him at the right time. “Don’t you ever get tired of it all?” He waved his hand around to encompass the ballroom, some of the liquid in his glass splashing onto the floor.
Wilson’s puzzled expression cleared when he finally realized what Marcus asked. “Which part if it? The ladies looking for bedmates, the card games in the next room where one can increase his blunt? Or the sweet little just-out-of-the-schoolroom misses whose mamas pass someone like me by as not good enough for their precious daughters?” He grinned and snatched a glass of champagne from a passing footman’s tray. “Never.”
Wilson leaned in, his breath reeking from whatever combination of spirits and food he’d consumed. “This is our life, man. I’m just grateful that the pater didn’t piddle away his money so I could live the life of a gentleman.”
If Marcus needed an excuse to leave the ball, Wilson just handed it to him. “I see Harding across the room. I need to speak with him. Excuse me.” Marcus walked off in the general direction of Lord Harding, then took an abrupt turn and left the room.
He tried very hard on the way home to forget what Wilson said. This is our life, man. I’m just grateful that the pater didn’t piddle away his money so I could live the life of a gentleman.
Even though Marcus’s father was a man of substance, he’d always insisted that Marcus contribute to the family businesses. He and his father put in full days managing the various enterprises under their control. In addition to that, Marcus sat in the House of Commons and worked diligently on his bill. He was hardly living the life of a gentleman despite his reputation of devilish rake. That, he supposed, came from the number of women he’d romanced over the years.
The extremely frightening thought grabbed hold of his mind. Was Mother correct? Was it really time for him to settle down? Choose a wife? Certainly not from the gaggle of giggling, flighty schoolgirls who arrived in the ton each year. The few times he partnered one of them his ears grew numb from all the chatter. And never about anything worthwhile.
But then the ones who had passed a few years without an offer were not those he would choose to spend his life with, either. For the most part demanding, petulant, and pretentious. Somewhat like unfortunate Lord Mulgrave’s wife, sister to Addie’s friend, Lady Pamela. He’d seen the couple out and about a few times and the encounters always left Marcus shaking his head. That woman would drive any man to his liquor bottle.
Yes, he’d become somewhat jaded of late. Despite his hard work, the bill he’d fought so hard for would die a peaceful death in the House of Commons. It was time to wrap up whatever business he could and visit his sister. Get the devil out of London.COLLAPSE
Janet, Goodreads wrote:
This was a really exciting addition to the series – it was fast-paced, well-written, and so very romantic.
Lisa, Goodreads wrote:
I was drawn in from page one & held until the final one. Strong characters who had depth & above all were believable. I loved Lizbeth who was such a strong woman & not only coped with everything that was thrown at her (& there was a lot) but she came out the other side stronger & able to love. Oh Marcus, another swoon worthy hero who was gentle & patient with Lizbeth & allowed her to set the pace of their burgeoning romance.
Callie Hutton describes every character and event so skillfully that I felt as if I was in the book. I definitely intend to read the other books in this series!