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A duchess disguised as a lady’s maid; a gentleman parading as a highwayman.
She’s on the run from a murderer, he’s in pursuit of one…
In a remote Norfolk manor, Phoebe, Lady Cavanaugh is wrongfully accused by her servants of her brutal husband’s murder.
There’s little sympathy in the district for the duchess who’s taken a lover and made clear she despised her husband. The local magistrate has also vowed revenge since Lady Cavanaugh rebuffed his advances.
When Phoebe is discovered in the forest wearing only a chemise stained with the blood of her murdered husband, she persuades the noble ‘highwayman’ who rescues her that she is Lady Cavanaugh’s maidservant.
Hugh Redding has his own reasons for hunting down the man who would have Phoebe tried and hanged for murder. He plans to turn ‘the maidservant with aspirations above her station’ into the ‘lady’ who might testify against the very villain who would see Phoebe dead.
But despite the fierce attraction between Phoebe and the ‘highwayman’, Phoebe is not in a position to admit she’s the ‘murderous duchess’ hunted across the land.
Seizing an opportunity to strike at the social and financial standing of the man who has profited by her distress, Phoebe is drawn into a dangerous intrigue.
But when disaster strikes, she fears Hugh will lack the sympathy or understanding of her unusual predicament to even want to save her a second time.
“Ma’am! Terrible news!” Her maid, Barbara, hurried into the room, squeaking when she saw Wentworth. She brought her apron up to her face as she continued in a rush, “Oh ma’am, His Lordship’s heir is dead!”
Phoebe gasped and instinctively put her hand out towards Wentworth. “I’m so sorry.”
Ignoring her, Wentworth pulled on his breeches and shirt and pushed past Barbara. Phoebe ran after him as he strode down the corridor, down the stairs, his footsteps loud and determined before he burst into the drawing room.
Ulrick was hunched in his chair, his eyes slits from the reflection of the fire. “Terrible accident. Wenworth.” He was properly awake now and holding out a letter which Wentworth snatched from his grasp and scanned quickly.
Phoebe felt the tug of sympathy at the shock on his face and wished she’d not been so harsh, earlier. She took a step towards him but he avoided her outstretched hand, the shock on his face increasing as he jerked up his head.
“By God, both of them? Both my brothers are dead.” He stabbed at the letter. “The imbecile was driving. Why, the other’s as imbecilic to let him take the reins and now they’ve both plunged to their deaths.”
“A great shock, Wentworth,” Ulrick muttered. “Changes everything, of course.”
Phoebe’s eyes widened at the implication. She gasped. “You’re Ulrick’s heir, Wentworth.” She felt a wave of relief and nearly laughed aloud, so filled with joy was she that she need not have to suffer Wentworth’s attentions ever again.
Casting herself at her husband’s feet, she rested her cheek upon his knees. “Now you can rest in peace, Ulrick, though it’s a terrible thing to rejoice in another’s death.” She took his bony hands in hers and began to chafe their papery backs. “We will mourn as is proper, yet it’s the truth, my husband. Your worries about the succession are over.”
“Unless you are carrying my child.”
Phoebe glanced up, shocked at the blaze of anger that marred Wentworth’s expression. Unconsciously she put her hand to her belly. “I…I don’t believe so, Wentworth,” she said cautiously. And nor did she. She’d only suggested such might be the case to try and deflect his advances earlier this evening.
“But you may be now. As of five minutes ago, my angel.”
It was no endearment. Phoebe stared up at Ulrick to gauge his reaction but he was obviously in great pain, his eyes glazed with it.
“Then we’ve no choice but to wait and see,” she whispered, her mouth dry though she forced herself to hold his angry glare. “We shall make the best of whatever we have done.”
“We shall make the best of a badly done deal now.” Wentworth’s voice was frighteningly calm as he stepped forward.
Phoebe recoiled as she squeezed Ulrick’s hand. “Ulrick, can you hear me?” she pleaded. “You must reassure Wentworth if only for my sake.”
Her husband breathed heavily. It was often thus in the evenings when the pain came down strong and hard.
Wentworth gave a mirthless laugh. “He’s not long for this world, my dear. You can see it; the doctor says it. He’s suffering. See how he suffers.” And all the time Wentworth was moving closer while Phoebe drew further back against her husband who would not help her when he was in good health and would not help her now.
“A dutiful wife would put him out of his misery, wouldn’t she?” He’d picked up the paper knife from the escritoire settled in the enclave by the tasselled curtain. It was a slender, chiselled and elegant instrument. Deadly.
“No, Wentworth.” Her teeth chattered. She tried to get to her feet and run but Wentworth’s arm shot out and his hand gripped hers, forcing the paper knife into her grasp, forcing her forward. She tried to resist, tried to snatch her hand back, the sharp blade catching on the skin on the back of her hand, drawing a thin, instant incision that filled with blood.