Ann Lethbridge.

Lady Rosabella's Ruse






Garth bowed. I beg your pardon, madam. I did not see you.

He glanced at Lady Keswick for an introduction and she waved an indolent pudgy hand. Mrs Travenor.

Married. Garth didnt quite believe his instant flash of disappointment.

My dear, meet the worst scapegrace in London, the old lady continued. Mrs Travenor is my companion.

A widow, then. He cheered instantly. Illogically.

He inclined his head. A pleasure to meet you, Mrs Travenor.

A shaft of sunlight released by a passing cloud gilded the young womans warm-coloured skin, illuminating the quiet purity of her expression. A virginal widow? Hardly likely. But a woman best avoided.

She was the kind of woman who expected the parsons mousetrap at the end of the day. He had walked that path once already. He didnt want a wife. The thought made him shudder.

Enough, Stanford.

Garth realised he was still staring at the widow and dragged his gaze back to Lady Keswick.

The elderly woman smiled at her companion fondly. Rose doesnt deserve your kind of trouble.

AUTHOR NOTE

When I first met Garth in THE RAKES INHERITED COURTESAN I just knew I needed to write his story. He popped up again in THE RAKES INTIMATE ENCOUNTER (Mills & Boon Undone! eBooks) to remind me of my promise. As all bad boys do, he finally got his way. I do hope you enjoy learning more about him and Rose as much as I did.

If you would like to know more about me and my books you can find me at my website: http://www.annlethbridge.com. Drop me a note. I love to hear from readers. If you would like to join me as I explore Regency England on my blog you can find me at http://www.regencyramble.blogspot.com

About the Author

ANN LETHBRIDGE has been reading Regency novels for as long as she can remember. She always imagined herself as Lizzie Bennet, or one of Georgette Heyers heroines, and would often recreate the stories in her head with different outcomes or scenes. When she sat down to write her own novel, it was no wonder that she returned to her first love: the Regency.

Ann grew up roaming England with her military father. Her family lived in many towns and villages across the country, from the Outer Hebrides to Hampshire. She spent memorable family holidays in the West Country and in Dover, where her father was born. She now lives in Canada, with her husband, two beautiful daughters and a Maltese terrier named Teaser, who spends his days on a chair beside the computer, making sure she doesnt slack off.

Ann visits Britain every year, to undertake research and also to visit family members who are very understanding about her need to poke around old buildings and visit every antiquity within a hundred miles. If you would like to know more about Ann and her research, or to contact her, visit her website at www.annlethbridge.com.

She loves to hear from readers.

Previous novels by this author:

THE RAKES INHERITED COURTESAN

WICKED RAKE, DEFIANT MISTRESS CAPTURED FOR THE CAPTAINS PLEASURE THE GOVERNESS AND THE EARL

(part of Mills & Boon New Voices anthology)

THE GAMEKEEPERS LADY

MORE THAN A MISTRESS

(linked to The Gamekeepers Lady)

LADY ROSABELLAS RUSE

(linked to The Rakes Inherited Courtesan)

and in Mills & Boon Historical Undone! eBooks:

THE RAKES INTIMATE ENCOUNTER

THE LAIRD AND THE WANTON WIDOW ONE NIGHT AS A COURTESAN UNMASKING LADY INNOCENT

Lady Rosabellas Ruse

Ann Lethbridge


www.millsandboon.co.uk

I would like to dedicate this book

to the bad boy in my life, my husband Keith, who knows beyond any shadow of doubt he is the model for all of my heroes.

I would like to thank Joanne Grant, my editor,

and all the wonderful staff at Harlequin Mills & Boon for their help and support, for without them there would be no book.

And finally a big thank you to the readers who keep reading.

Chapter One


The weight of tedium hung heavy in the air. After only one hour at Lady Keswicks Sussex mansion, Garth Evernden, eighth Baron Stanford, was bored. Summer house parties were all the same, deadly dull or wildly hedonistic and utterly predictable.

As he prowled in the wake of his hostesss butler along a corridor lined with every Greek god known to man, he wondered why he hadnt gone to Brighton. A fleeting thought of Prinny and his cronies produced a yawn.

Why had he accepted Lady Keswicks invitation? Ah, yes, now he remembered his purpose. Having delivered Clarissa her cong? last month, he needed an occupant for his discreet town house in Blackheath. A woman who would entertain his nights and stay out of his days. This gathering of philanderers and fast widows might provide such a woman, but now he was here, hope seemed elusive.

The butler threw back a pair of French doors. The terrace, my lord, where you will find everyone gathered.

No need to announce me.

The butler grinned. Hadnt planned to, my lord. No standing on ceremony at The Grange.

Hed forgotten Lady Keswicks refreshing informality. Perhaps his stay wouldnt be so bad.

A group of five or six men in dark coats and women in pastels hung over the terraces grey-stone parapet gazing at the lawn.

Look at Fitz go! one of the men hooted. Hapton. A slender brown-haired dandy of about forty summers, with a penchant for fast women and outrageous wagers. Ill wager a pony on him.

The woman in yellow at his right turned her back on the view and laughed up at Hapton. Mrs Mallow made an enchanting picture with her lovely, if somewhat hard, face framed by luxurious chestnut curls and a lavender parasol. My money is on the gardeners. Fitz is all go at the start, but in my experience, he has no stamina.

General laughter along the rail met the sally.

Seeing Garth, Mrs Mallow waved. Hapton turned to look, grimaced, then swung back to whatever had their attention on the lawn. Taller than most, Garth peered over Haptons shoulder. It was a human wheelbarrow race. Two gentlemen against two brawny young men in homespun. Garth sighed. God, they were childish. He hoped this wasnt the pinnacle of the entertainment to come.

Having not yet greeted his hostess, he turned away from the view and spotted her seated in a chair on wheels in the shade of a cluster of potted yews. A monstrous red wig battled with the purple of a sarcenet gown cut low enough to reveal an expanse of enormous breasts. Struggling to keep his gaze on her face and not the jiggling mass of flesh, he made his bow. Lady Keswick, your servant.

Lord Stanford. Welcome. She offered him a lazy smile, her puffy cheeks swelling to melon-sized proportions and practically obliterating her twinkling faded blue eyes. I hope my staff took proper care of you?

One hand to his heart, he offered his most charming smile. The accommodations are excellent. I congratulate you on your new home.

Good. Very good. She eyed him a little askance. I expected you yesterday.

I had trouble tearing myself away from a prior engagement.

I never heard you had trouble bidding a woman farewell. Who was it this time?

He raised a brow, let the mockery show on his face. I dont remember.

A rich chuckle set her bosom trembling like a blancmange carried by a nervous footman. Cheeky rogue. Now I recall why I invited you. You make me laugh.

She made him laugh, too. Most of the time. He grinned at her. Is everyone here?

All thats condescended to come.

He eyed the women speculatively. From this angle, their pink, yellow and blue-clad bottoms were presented in a row like choice desserts on a platethey looked delicious. Choosing was always interesting.

Tasting could be a disappointment.

A dog, an overweight pug, waddled from beneath the elderly ladys skirts and growled at his reflection in Garths boots.

Hello, old chap. Garth bent down and scratched behind the dogs ears. Who are you? The dog stared up at him with bulbous eyes.

Digger, Lady Keswick said. Come, sir. Lie down.

The dog swaggered back into hiding.

A movement deeper in the shadows of the potted trees brought Garth to his feet. Another woman was seated behind his hostess, her black attire making her almost invisible.

He disguised a sharp intake of breath as he took in the womans face. Pale olive skin and dark, almond-shaped eyes gave her perfectly oval face an exotic mysterious look. The raven-black hair swept back and tightly constrained at her nape only added to the impression of reserve. His fingers tingled with the urge to see it fall in luxurious lengths to her shoulders. Her mouth tightened as he continued his perusal and he let his gaze linger on her lips. Set in her Madonna-like face, that mouth was a wonder. Full and lush, it spoke of carnal delights while it pretended disapproval.

A woman garbed like a nun with the face of a temptress.

He bowed. I beg your pardon, madam. I did not see you.

He glanced at Lady Keswick for an introduction and was surprised to see an odd expression flicker across the normally placid face. Concern? The look disappeared too fast for him to be sure. She waved an indolent pudgy hand. Mrs Travenor.

Married. Garth didnt quite believe his instant flash of disappointment.

My dear, meet the worst scapegrace in London, the old lady continued. Mrs Travenor is my companion.

A widow, then. He cheered instantly. Illogically.

Mrs Travenor rose to greet him. Taller than hed guessed, her eyes were on a level with his chin. Tall and willowy. She made a stiff curtsy, her head dipping briefly. Jasmine wafted up from her skin. A sensual fragrance for a woman who dressed like a crow. A pair of velvety brown eyes dusted with gold at their centres steadily returned his gaze. My lord. The soft husky voice raised the hairs on his arms. The jolt of unwanted lust annoyed him. There was nothing about this woman to suggest she would welcome a discreet liason. Then why was he interested?

He inclined his head. A pleasure to meet you, Mrs Travenor.

A shaft of sunlight released by a passing cloud gilded the young womans warm-coloured skin, illuminating the quiet purity of her expression. A virginal widow? Hardly likely. But a woman best avoided.

She was the kind of female who expected the parsons mousetrap at the end of the day. Had walked that path once already. He didnt want a wife. The thought made him shudder. He had an heir. His brother. A man who deserved the title of Stanford, and Garth would make sure he got it.

Enough, Stanford.

Garth realised he was still staring at the widow and dragged his gaze back to Lady Keswick. The elderly woman smiled at her companion fondly. Rose doesnt deserve your kind of trouble.

Rose. The name seemed too trite for such exotic loveliness.

Lady Keswick waved a beringed hand. Go join your fellow reprobates.

Summarily dismissed, he joined the party watching the sport on the grass. He didnt mind being warned off. Indeed, this was where he would find his next source of amusement, not with a woman who eyed him with disapproval even if he had seen a flicker of interest in those extraordinary brown eyes.

Stanford, Hapton said. I thought youd gone elsewhere? The man sounded less than pleased. He must have his eye on a morsel he feared Garth would steal. Well, that might make things a bit more interesting.

Garth greeted the languid dandy with a handshake and a raised eyebrow. Tracking my movements, old boy?

Hardly, the other man said with a glower.

Further along the wall, a womans head turned swiftly, her jaw dropping in dismay.

Penelope? His best friends wife? His stomach fell away. Dis appointment, disgust, anger, followed each other in swift succession. He closed the distance between them with one long stride. Lady Smythe. What are you doing here?

Her green gaze beseeched him. I

Mrs Mallow, her dark eyes gleaming with malicious delight, looped an arm through Penelopes. She came with me.

And that was supposed to make it better? Maria Mallow was the female equivalent of a rake and not above leading a new bride astray. Anger curled tight fingers in his gut, despite his calm expression, as he bowed to the ladies.

Mark would be devastated when he learned of her treachery. And to think, hed actually felt a twinge of envy for his friends obvious happiness when hed attended their wedding a scant two months before.

Or did he have this all wrong? Is Mark with you?

Auburn-haired and freckle-faced, her flush was painful to watch. My husband is away on business. Anger coloured her tone. It sounded like jealousy to his practised ear.

He frowned. Does he know where you are?

She stiffened and something like pain darkened her gaze. Mark doesnt care what I do.

Had the blush of happiness faded so quickly? He found it hard to believe. Yet here she was, at a house renowned for high jinks among the guests.

Mrs Mallow patted Penelopes hand. What is sauce for the gander She raised a brow. Surely that is your motto, Forever?

Forever was a nickname hed earned years before. He ground his teeth. It was not his motto, though others here would claim it. Hapton, for example. Or Bannerby.

Damn Penelope. The girl was as bad as the rest of these women, but he couldnt let it go. Pretend it was of no consequence. Damn it all.

In hindsight, his earlier boredom was a hell of a lot more inviting than the prospect of persuading a recalcitrant wife to go home.

Certainly not a role hed ever played before.

He glanced back at the mysterious Mrs Travenor and caught her frowning gaze and his blood rose to the challenge.

Fiend seize it. Two women under one roof, likely to give him nothing but trouble.

Outwardly composed, inside, Rosabella Cavendish trembled like an aspen. For the first time in her life, she didnt know what to think. One glance from those dark, coolly insolent eyes and her heart had drummed so hard and so loud her body shook. Why? He was no different from the rest of Lady Keswicks male guests. Rakish. Confident. Handsome. All right, perhaps he was more handsome than the rest, with his lean athletic body and saturnine aristocratic features. His smile when he bent over the dog had been heart-stoppingly sweet.

None of that was what had sent her blood pounding in her veins, though. It was the way he had looked at her. Really looked at her. Most of them presumed her a poor widow forced to earn a living as a paid companion and their gazes moved on. Hed looked at her as if he saw her innermost secrets. She had the feeling that for the price of his smile, shed tell him anything he wanted to know. Clearly the man was downright dangerous.

Striking-looking devil, aint he? Lady Keswick said, watching him shake hands with the men and greet the ladies to their obvious pleasure.

I hadnt noticed, Rosa said, breathing deeply to settle her heart into its proper rhythm.

Dont look at me with those innocent brown eyes, my dear. Youd have to be dead not to notice Stanford. Be warned, though, hes an out-and-out rogue. Never settles on one woman when two will do.

Facing Lady Smythe and Mrs Mallow, his spare elegant form in a dark coat and buff unmentionables a foil for their pastel gowns and fluttering ribbons, she sensed a wildness about him, a hard edge. Rosas insides fluttered with what could only be fear.

Sensible terror.

It certainly was not envy of the two beautiful ladies so obviously entranced by his company.

Beside the fashionable lush-figured Mrs Mallow in primrose, Lady Smythe looked ethereal in a gown of pale leaf green, the scalloped hem finely embroidered with flowering vines and her face framed within a leghorn bonnet adorned with a profusion of roses at the crown. The ruffled lace at her throat gave her an air of modesty out of place among Lady Keswicks flashy company. A pearl among diamonds who, according to Lady Keswick, had been snapped up in her first Season by a man destined for political greatness. Every man at the house had been paying her attention from the moment she had arrived this morning. A woman who already had a husband, too.

A stab of something sharp in her chest stopped her breath. Surely she didnt envy the young woman her attentive male court? A bunch of rakes and Stanford the worst of them?

The grande dame narrowed her eyes. He seems to have got Lady Smythe all of a fluster. I wont have him upsetting my guests.

Lady Smythe did indeed look a little panicked, the colour in her cheeks a bright flag. Perhaps she wasnt so charmed by the rake after all.

Despite the gossip, Lady Keswick ensured nothing happened under her roof that both parties didnt want. It was a point of honour with the hostess to the wickeder element of the ton. As shed earlier explained, a woman needed some freedom in her life. Freedom without consequences for widows and women who had married for convenience. Women like Lady Smythe, Rosa assumed.

Her heart ached for the delicate-looking lady. A marriage without love was no marriage at all, her mother had always said.

Bah! Lady Keswick pronounced. Stanfords trouble. Has been since he arrived on the town. No girl, decent or otherwise, is safe once he has her in his sights. Take my advice, Rose, keep well clear of him. You are far too innocent for a man of his ilk.

Did innocence show on ones face? She hoped not or her game would be up.

A cry went up from the watchers. The race must be over.

Who won? Lady Keswick asked. I had five guineas on my gardeners.

The men on the balcony doubled up with laughter. Jeers rang out across the lawn. I think your money is safe, Rosa said.

Go and see, child.

With a swift intake of breath, Rosa left her shadowy corner, edged around the laughing group, mentally shaking her head at her cowardice as she made for the stone railing far from Lord Stanford.

On the grass, Mr Fitzwilliam and Lord Bannerby were collapsed in a heap two-thirds of the way down the course, while the gardeners, at the finish line, toasted them with mugs of ale and huge grins.

Did you win? a low dark voice said in her ear.

She jumped, heat flashing through her, and turned to find Lord Stanford smiling down at her. His gaze flicked from her head to her feet the way it had when they were introduced. As she had then, she felt exposed, vulnerable.

Fortunately, her skin didnt blush pink the way most pale English ladies did. He couldnt possibly know of the quickening of her heart or the sudden clench in her belly. She backed up until the carved-stone rail pressed against the small of her back.

Dark as the devil, out here in the sun his eyes were obsidian, his cheekbones and jaw carved in hard angular lines, his hair a shade darker than chocolate. But darkest of all was his aura of danger.

No wonder Lady Smythes eyes turned his way the moment she thought he wasnt watching.

I do not gamble, she said. How self-righteous she sounded. How priggish in this company that denied itself nothing. Yet it was the truth. She had no money for frivolities. Lady Keswick has an interest in the outcome.

He leaned one elbow on the rail, effectively cutting her off from the rest of the company. Deliberate? Naturally. He was a man who did nothing without a purpose. What purpose could he have with respect to her? A tremor ran through her frame. Fear. Excitement. She quelled the rush of sensation and presented a calm expression. If you would excuse me? She moved to step around him.

He shifted and blocked her path. I would excuse you anything at all, he said with a dark smile. What is your offence?

I say, Stanford, called Mr Phillips, a man so pale he looked as if he had never stepped in the sun, pale eyes, pale thinning hair, pale skin. They are setting up the butts. Time to make good on your boast.

The crowd on the balcony were drifting down the steps at the far end, heading for the lawn.

A flicker of emotion passed over his face. Annoyance at the interruption? Before he could say more, Rosa ducked around him and hurried to Lady Keswicks side, her heart beating far faster than she wanted to admit. You win, my lady. Her voice sounded breathless as if shed run a mile. She drew in a steadying breath. The gardeners were indeed too much of a match for the gentlemen.

Fifty guineas isnt a bad profit for indolence, Lady Keswick said with twinkling eyes. Hapton is a fool with his money. Tell Jonas to see that the lads get a shilling each for their effort. Will you join the guests at the butts?

I have no skill with a bow and prefer to watch from up here. Would you like to move closer to the balcony for a better view?

Lady Keswick reached out and patted her hand. You are a good girl, Rose. And you have talent. By summers end I am sure I can find you a place in the opera.

The end of the summer might be too late. Triggs was beginning to press for his money.

Rosa pushed the old lady towards the terrace wall. Has no one replied?

Have patience. They are busy people. One of them will come through, I am sure.

It was their agreement. Rosa would help entertain the guests over the next few weeks, and Lady Keswick would help her find a role in an opera company.

Only things were not going quite as shed planned. The money she was earning as a companion was not enough for her urgent needs. It was beginning to look as if she might need to find something more lucrative. A role in an opera seemed as if it might be her best option.





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