The Mysterious Lord Marlowe
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Jane gazed up into his eyes. For a moment she felt weak and vulnerable, close to the tears she had been suppressing.
George hesitated, then bent his head, his lips brushing her brow. The caress comforted her, though she ought to have rejected it. Instead she wanted to cling to him.
Jane felt his arms close about her. He held her next to his body and his lips touched her hair; he stroked the back of her neck with his fingertips, his warmth comforting her. He did nothing to indicate a desire to make love to her. His embrace was one of comfort and reassurance—nothing more.
For a moment Jane wished that she might stay in his arms for ever, but then she remembered who she was and why she was with this man and drew back …
SECRETS AND SCANDALS
Nothing stays secret for long in Regency Society!
The truth threatens to reveal a scandal
for all three couples in this exciting new trilogy from
THE DISAPPEARING DUCHESS—
THE MYSTERIOUS LORD MARLOWE—
THE SCANDALOUS LORD LANCHESTER—
You can also find these as eBooks at www.millsandboon.co.uk
About the Author
ANNE HERRIES lives in Cambridgeshire, where she is fond of watching wildlife, and spoils the birds and squirrels that are frequent visitors to her garden. Anne loves to write about the beauty of nature, and sometimes puts a little into her books, although they are mostly about love and romance. She writes for her own enjoyment, and to give pleasure to her readers. She is a winner of the Romantic Novelists’ Association Romance Prize. She invites readers to contact her on her website: www.lindasole.co.uk
Previous novels by the same author:
THE RAKE’S REBELLIOUS LADY
A COUNTRY MISS IN HANOVER SQUARE* AN INNOCENT DEBUTANTE IN HANOVER SQUARE* THE MISTRESS OF HANOVER SQUARE* FORBIDDEN LADY† THE LORD’S FORCED BRIDE† THE PIRATE’S WILLING CAPTIVE† HER DARK AND DANGEROUS LORD† BOUGHT FOR THE HAREM HOSTAGE BRIDE
*A Season in Town trilogy †The Melford Dynasty
And in the Regency series The Steepwood Scandal:
LORD RAVENSDEN’S MARRIAGE
And in The Hellfire Mysteries:
AN IMPROPER COMPANION
A WEALTHY WIDOW A WORTHY GENTLEMAN
Did you know that some of these novels are also available as eBooks? Visit www.millsandboon.co.uk
‘That is my only offer.Take it or leave it.’
The tall gentleman looked into the face of the man who had spoken and knew him for a rogue. Blake was lying through his teeth and he would be a fool to believe one word the man said—and yet what could he do but agree to the devil’s proposal?
‘You are asking me to help you abduct a respectable young woman?’ he asked because he needed to say the words aloud to get them clear in his mind. ‘You refuse my money and demand that I go along with this outrageous affair in exchange for the return of my property—am I right?’
‘The girl is willing enough. She wants it to look as if it is an abduction so that her guardian will not refuse our marriage. He holds the purse strings and will release her fortune to save her reputation.’
‘I do not see why you need my help if the girl is willing to wed you?’
‘I must be sure that no harm comes to her. The men I employ aren’t of the best character and they might decide to carry her off themselves for the ransom. Her guardian hates me and if he guessed I was involved he would never release her fortune to me. Therefore I must employ someone I can trust—and if you wish to protect a certain lady’s good name you will oblige me.’
‘You swear to me that this young lady is willing?’
‘I have said it,’ Blake grunted and glared at him. ‘Please yourself, sir. If you want those letters returned, then that is my price.’
Blake was in his late thirties, good-looking enough in his own way—apart from his odd eyes. Of differing shades, they gave him a strange appearance, which was slightly sinister.
‘Then you leave me little choice. I do not see why you need my help, but if it is the only way …’
‘You will speak to her, reassure her, stay with her until I join you both at a place we shall agree upon. My men will do the business, but you must keep your word and stay with her until we meet.’
The tall gentleman frowned, certain now that Blake was lying about the girl’s willingness to be abducted. His instincts told him to walk away. He should go to a magistrate and tell him what he knew—but if he did that someone he cared for would lose everything. He was caught between the devil and destruction. Besides, he did not even know the young woman’s name; if he did not help Blake the abduction would still take place. Blake would find someone else to do his dirty work and then there would be no chance of thwarting him.
‘Where will you be whilst this deed takes place?’
‘I shall be nearby, watching you. My men shall take the young lady to a fresh carriage that I shall have waiting—you will accompany her until we get to the rendezvous point and then you will go your own way.’
‘And then you will return my property?’
‘You have my word on it.’
The word of a cheat and a liar. He did not for one moment believe that the girl was willing, but if he walked away now more than one lady might be ruined. If he agreed to this outrageous proposal, he might be able to spirit the lady away from under Blake’s nose—and still get the letters that could ruin the good name of the sister he loved.
‘Very well,’ he said and offered his hand. ‘I shall act as your go-between—and you will give me the letters?’
‘Have I not given my word?’
‘Renege on it and you will be sorry.’ He looked at Blake, his gaze narrowed. ‘When and where is this abduction to take place?’
‘I have been dreading this visit,’ Mariah, Lady Fanshawe, said and turned to look at her companion in the carriage, which was taking them to the house of her late husband’s sister. ‘I do not think I could have borne it had you not agreed to accompany me, Jane. Winston’s family never approved of me, you know. His sister and Aunt Cynthia thought me too flighty—and accused me of marrying him simply for his fortune.’
‘It is not like you to give way to a fit of nerves,’ Jane Lanchester said, putting out a hand to touch her companion’s hand. ‘They cannot harm you, you know, Mariah. Winston left almost his entire fortune to you. His relatives may not like the situation, but they cannot change the will you told me that your husband went to some lengths to make certain you were protected.’
‘The income is certainly mine, but the capital is tied up in a trust,’ Mariah confided. ‘I intended to ask Justin what I ought to do, but Lucinda has been a little unwell because of the baby. After all they’ve been through, I decided that it was best not to involve him in my affairs.’
Jane nodded, understanding perfectly. Justin, Duke of Avonlea, had been too worried about his wife, Lucinda, to become embroiled in Mariah’s troubles, but it seemed that she was anxious about something and needed to open her heart to someone.
‘You can tell me everything, you know,’ Jane said. ‘I am certain that my brother would do everything in his power to assist you were he here. Unfortunately, he was called suddenly to Paris on some business for the government.’
Mariah nodded, an odd look in her eyes. She had thought Lord Lanchester’s visit to Paris might have been for another reason, but nothing had come of it. He remained there after Lucinda, the duke and Mariah had returned to England and no doubt his sister knew more of his affairs than she.
She smothered a sigh. ‘Andrew is a good friend, but he is suffering himself at the moment. You do know that he was very much in love with Lucinda Avonlea?’
‘I know that Andrew found her charming and was concerned for her when she was embroiled in that unpleasant business of the blackmail,’ Jane agreed. ‘I also know that he admires you greatly, Mariah—particularly the way you handled yourself when that dreadful man tried to murder Lucinda.’
‘Lord Lanchester is a decent and honourable man,’ Mariah agreed, a little nerve flicking at her right temple. ‘He is a good friend—but I am not sure that he could help with this problem.’
‘Why do you not tell me? Perhaps a lawyer …’
Mariah hesitated. ‘My husband’s lawyer told me that the bulk of the fortune Winston left me is in the trust fund. I can draw the income, which is generous, and I have a small amount of capital—but the rest will not be released until I remarry. Winston thought I might fall prey to fortune hunters. The problem is that my trustees must approve my marriage.’
‘Ah, I begin to see …’ Jane saw her friend’s mutinous look and smiled. ‘You do not wish to be told whom you may marry by these trustees.’
‘And they are Winston’s sister, a querulous old woman, and her meddling husband,’ Mariah said and pouted. ‘My lawyer said that if the man I wished to marry was of good birth and above suspicion they could not withhold their consent, but why should I be beholden to them?’
‘Surely they would not seek to interfere?’ Jane asked, looking at her anxiously. Mariah was both brave and beautiful but she was also stubborn and at times contrary. ‘Is there someone you would wish to marry?’ she suggested gently.
‘Well, I thought there might be, but—’ Mariah broke off as they heard two shots followed by a scream, then the horses came to an abrupt halt and the two ladies were thrown into a heap on the floor of the carriage.
‘Lawks a’ mercy!’ an uncultured voice exclaimed. ‘There’s two of ’em, guv. What do we do now?’ Jane registered the fact that the man was pointing a wicked-looking pistol at them. He jerked it at them, indicating that they should step down from the carriage. ‘Which one of yer is Mariah Fanshawe?’
Mariah was holding a kerchief to her forehead and appeared not to hear the question. Jane thought quickly. If she were not mistaken, this was an abduction. Mariah was an heiress and it was more than likely her fortune they were after than her.
‘I am,’ Jane said looking at Mariah. ‘Say nothing, Jane. We are in some danger.’
‘No …’ Mariah had become aware of the situation. ‘You can’t … I shan’t let you.’
Ignoring her, Jane got out of the carriage. There were four men, two of them had pistols trained on the coachman and groom. The groom was holding his arm, blood seeping through his fingers, and his own pistol was lying on the ground, where he’d obviously thrown it after he was shot.
‘I am Mariah Fanshawe,’ Jane said. ‘What is the meaning of this outrage? How dare you attack my coach and wound my groom?’
Mariah had followed her from the carriage. She was clearly a little dazed from the accident and still held the kerchief to her temple.
‘She’s the one we want.’ One of the men holding a pistol trained on the coachman jerked his head at Jane. ‘Let the other one get back inside.’
‘I ain’t sure she’s the right one,’ another of the rogues said. ‘We’d best take them both to be certain. Blake will kick up if we get the wrong one.’
‘We are not going anywhere,’ Mariah put in, suddenly coming to life. ‘Besides, I am Lady Fanshawe and my friend is lying to protect me. I demand that you allow us to continue our journey.’
‘That settles it, we’ll take them both,’ the first rogue said and gestured at the groom and coachman. ‘Get down and we’ll take the carriage. Rab, you can drive. I’ll get inside with the women.’ He waved his pistol at them. ‘Any funny business and I’ll shoot yer.’
‘Let Jane go on and I’ll come with you,’ Mariah offered.
‘No, you can’t,’ Jane said and rushed to stand by her as the men hesitated, then one of them grabbed Mariah’s arm and thrust her into the carriage. Jane saw the groom and coachman were obeying the men with the pistols and one of them had climbed up to the driving box as Mariah’s servants got down. ‘I shan’t let you take her!’ Jane flew at the man who was trying to push Mariah into the carriage and pulled the mask from his face. ‘I’ve seen your face now. I shall know you again.’
‘Take her, too.’
A new voice had spoken. Jane glanced over her shoulder and looked into the strangest pair of eyes she had ever seen. A scarf covered the bottom of the man’s face, but his eyes were distinctive, being of odd colours.
‘I’ll know you, too,’ she declared, her anger making her throw all caution to the winds. ‘You had better let us …’
She got no further, for someone struck her on the back of the head and she made a little sighing noise as she fell into the arms of one of the men, who then thrust her into the carriage. She did not hear the gasp of distress from Mariah or see what happened next….
Jane’s eyelids flickered, but as the light touched her eyes she groaned. Becoming aware of pain at the back of her head, she reached towards the sore spot. She touched the bump gingerly and found a little crust of dried blood, though there was no deep wound. Something had hit her on the back of her head—but what?
Letting her eyes travel round the room, Jane knew that she had never seen it before in her life. This was not her room, but it did not look like an inn bedchamber. Her memory was fuzzy—where was she and how had she got here?
She closed her eyes for a moment as she puzzled over what had happened to her. Suddenly the details of the abduction flooded back.
Where was Mariah? Opening her eyes, Jane pushed herself up into a sitting position and looked about her. There was no sign of her friend and a shiver of dread ran through her.
She had evidently not been left in the same room as Jane. Was she somewhere in the house? Why had those villains been abducting her? It must surely be for her fortune. The rogues could not know that it was tied up in a fund and could only be released by her trustees. If they were expecting to be paid a ransom, they might be disappointed and what would happen then?
Jane was afraid for her friend. The kind of men who would hold up a coach, wound the groom and snatch two innocent women might be capable of anything. If their demands were refused, they might be violent towards their captives. Both she and Mariah might be in danger of their lives.
Glancing towards the window, she considered taking a look out when she heard voices outside the door of her room. Closing her eyes, she forced herself to lie still as the door was unlocked and someone came in. She made a little moaning sound as she sensed a presence near her and hoped that her captors would believe she was still unconscious.
‘Damn that man Blake,’ a man’s voice said close to her. The voice was harsh, rough in tone. ‘She is still unconscious. He must have hit her too hard. He is a thoughtless devil, for she may die—and then we’ll be hung for sure if they catch us.’
‘We should fetch a doctor,’ another voice added. This was a cultured voice, a gentleman’s voice, but not one she knew. ‘If she is ill, she may well die without attention. When I agreed to this business, I was told the other young woman was a willing participant in the plan. This girl should never have been abducted. What made him do it?’
‘Blake couldn’t afford to leave her behind. She might tell someone what she had seen—and he needs time with the other one.’
‘Where has he taken her?’ the second voice commanded.
‘No idea. Captain Blake is a close-mouthed devil. Never lets his right hand know what his left hand is doing.’
‘He is certainly a vicious brute.’
‘What are we supposed to do with this girl? Blake doesn’t want her. It would have been better to leave her on the road. The coachman would have taken care of her. I don’t want to hang for her murder.’
‘I have no intention of being hung for this affair. Blake struck this young woman. Until then I had no certainty of what was going on. I was hopeful that the Fanshawe girl truly wished to elope.’
‘That tale won’t help you if the Runners catch us. You’ll hang with the rest of us if this goes wrong. We dare not fetch a doctor. The girl will be all right here for the moment. Blake will decide what to do when he comes.’
The men were moving away, leaving the room. Jane heard the door close and the key turn in the lock. She opened her eyes and breathed a sigh of relief. They had gone. She was alone, but she didn’t intend to wait around for Blake to decide what to do with her. Jane didn’t like the sound of the man they called Blake at all. She thought he must be the man with the odd colour eyes, one brown and the other a greenish colour that some called hazel. She’d looked into them seconds before he’d struck her.
Cautiously leaving the bed, she walked softly to the window and glanced out. She was in what appeared to be a private house in the country. From what she could see the grounds looked a little neglected, as if there wasn’t quite enough money to keep them immaculate.
Now she knew why she was here. She had seen too much. Given the chance, Jane could have described the height, build and hair colouring of the men—and in particular the one with the peculiar eyes. Blake was obviously the ringleader. He’d kidnapped Mariah for her money—but what would he do to her when he realised that she had no power to release her fortune into his hands?
Jane hoped Mariah would somehow be able to fend the rogue off until help could be got for her.
If only Andrew had been with them! She was sure her brother would have done something to prevent the men snatching them both.
She must concentrate her thoughts. Somehow she had to get away from here and get help for her friend. Mariah was brave and resourceful. Had she been carrying her pistol she might have shot one of them—as she had the man who had been about to murder their good friend Lucinda, Duchess of Avonlea, earlier that year. Jane was a little comforted by the knowledge that Mariah would not be made a nervous wreck by the abduction. No, wherever Mariah was being held, she would hold her nerve and do her best to outwit her captor. Yet she could not hold out for ever against ruthless men.
Somehow Jane must get a message to Andrew—or, if he were still away on that mysterious mission with the army, to the Duke of Avonlea. He would surely try to help them if only because of the help he had received when his beloved wife was being blackmailed. To do that Jane must first escape her own captors.
She had a clear view of the gardens from her window. She noticed with some satisfaction that there was a large tree quite near her window. As she took stock, Jane saw a man riding away from the house and wondered where he was going. She drew back from the window, but he did not look in her direction.
Perhaps this was her chance to escape. Jane was about to attempt to open the window when she heard something. Realising that someone was coming back to her room, she made a dash for the bed, but it was too late.
She stood staring at the man who had entered and felt a trickle of ice from the nape of her neck down to the small of her back. He was carrying a tray with food and wine, which he set down on a small table near the bed. Jane decided he was not an ill-looking man. His features were regular and he had what she might have thought, in other circumstances, an attractive mouth. His hair was a rich brown, his eyes almost black with a hint of silver in the pupils. She was wary, but somehow not frightened.
‘I thought you were faking it earlier,’ he said and a rueful smile lingered on his mouth. ‘You needn’t be afraid I shall give you away. Nor shall I harm you. I am very sorry for the way you have been treated.’
It was the man with the cultured voice. He was wearing clothes that were not suited to his station—part of a disguise, she imagined. Yet she was certain that he was a gentleman. She relaxed and moved closer to him.
‘I heard you mention someone called Blake. Is he the man with the odd-coloured eyes?’
He frowned. ‘For your own sake, do not let anyone else hear you say that. It would be best not to let the others know that you heard us talking.’
‘Who are you?’ Jane asked. ‘Why were you abducting Mariah? Is she here, too?’
‘No, she was taken elsewhere. Do not ask more for I could not tell you. It is a complicated story and not one I am proud of. The pity is that you became involved. You should have stayed in the carriage rather than risking yourself,’ the man said. ‘I deeply regret that you were taken, Miss—?’
Jane’s thoughts moved swiftly. She thought he was telling the truth when he said Mariah was elsewhere. She must have been brought here because the abductors did not know what to do with her.
‘It is Jane—Jane Blair.’
Jane gave no sign of her inner trepidation as she offered her mother’s maiden name. For the moment she would keep her true identity a secret.
‘Well, Jane, I am sorry for helping those rogues with what has turned out to be a bad business. I am not sure what I can do for the moment. There are three others in the house besides myself and all are armed—but nothing more will happen to you if I can help it. You have my word that I shall protect you from Blake and his lackeys somehow.’
‘You said it would be best to fetch the doctor,’ Jane said. ‘Your friend said Blake would decide what to do—why do you serve him if he is such a monster? You appear to be a gentleman. Are you in trouble that you would stoop to such a wicked act?’
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