Conquering a Fiery Marchioness (Preview)

Chapter One

“Are you sure about this, My Lady?” Ruth asked for the fourth time as Caroline adjusted her jacket and checked herself in the mirror. The binder wrapped around her chest certainly made a difference to the lining of the man’s shirt. And the way Ruth had pinned up her blonde hair was impressive.

Once she was fully dressed, nobody would be able to tell the difference.

Caroline sighed. She was getting fed up with Ruth questioning her.

“Of course, I’m sure. Someone had to find where David’s gone. It’s not like him to disappear like this.”

“It is a habit of his to be gone for a few days, My Lady.”

“Not like this. He would have told me.”

“Maybe he forgot.”

Caroline shook her head.

“He didn’t forget. I know something’s wrong. And I’m going to find out where he is.”

Ruth still looked nervous. Caroline trusted her lady’s maid to keep it quiet, but she did have a worry deep in her gut that said Ruth would be telling her parents about what she was doing as soon as she could. That couldn’t happen. Not until Caroline knew where David was.

If she were lucky, David would be found, and home before Ruth told her parents.

Ruth put in the final pin to keep Caroline’s hair up on her head and handed Caroline a hat. Caroline put it on and looked at herself. One of the footmen was as slight as her, even if his clothes were a little too big. Just a slight alteration, hair pinned up under the hat, her bindings keeping her chest as flat as she could get it without it being incredibly painful, and she could pass for a man. Or a youthful-looking man. Caroline was surprised at the transformation; she hadn’t expected it to look this good.

Nobody would bother her once she was wandering around London.

“I still think you should wait another night,” Ruth said as she began to put away the sewing kit she had brought in. “Perhaps Lord Birks will be back tomorrow.”

“I don’t think he will be. Someone needs to find him, and Mother and Father aren’t going to do it.”

“But My Lady …”

“No arguments, Ruth. I know something’s wrong, and I’m going to actually do something instead of sitting around twiddling my thumbs.” Caroline turned and glared at Ruth. “And I’m expecting you to keep quiet about this. I don’t want Father locking me in my room.”

Ruth looked torn, her hazel eyes shimmering with worry. There was also a hint of disapproval under that as well. If Ruth wasn’t a servant, Caroline was sure she would be getting soundly scolded. She took the other woman’s hands.

“Please, Ruth? It’s only for my peace of mind. If my brother is safe and he’s just forgot, I’ll come home and leave him alone. But until I find that news, I can’t be comfortable.”

“I’m still worried about you going out dressed as a man in the dark.” Ruth bit her lip. “At least take one of the footmen with you, so you have someone there in case you run into trouble.”

Caroline smiled.

“I’ll be fine. I’m good at keeping out of trouble.” Pulling back, Caroline headed towards the door. “I’ll be back as soon as I can. I don’t think Mother will look in on me now that I’ve retired for the night, but it’s best to make it look like I’m here.”

“I’ll take care of it, My Lady.”

Caroline nodded, and she slipped out of the room. It wouldn’t take much to slip down the back stairs and sneak around to the main street. If she went through the house, there was a chance that her parents would catch her, and then there would be an explanation that nobody would like.

She knew what she was doing was a really bad idea, but Caroline couldn’t think of any other way. She certainly couldn’t go around David’s usual haunts looking for him dressed as she was; that would really raise questions, and Caroline would get attention she wasn’t interested in. The only option was to dress as a man and go in like that. With her hair up, she could pass for a young-looking man.

Hopefully, nobody would look too closely.

If only David would send word. It wasn’t unusual for him to leave the house for a few days, mostly to spend time with his friends and get very drunk – something his parents despaired at – but he always sent word about where he was. He never failed to let his family know he was safe, and he was off on his own adventures.

But that hadn’t happened this time. He had just walked out of the house after breakfast three days ago, and nobody had heard from him since. Her parents were not as worried as they should have been. Her mother had even told Caroline to stop fussing, and they all knew what David was like.

Caroline knew what her brother was like. And she knew this was out of character for him. David was in danger. What if he had been kidnapped or even killed? That could happen. And there were unscrupulous people rumoured to be kidnapping people off the streets, sending them around to the Americas, and selling them into slavery.

If that is actually happening, then why on earth are you going out onto the street alone?

Someone has to do it. And if Father won’t, I will.

Caroline went quietly down the servants’ stairs, coming out just by the kitchen. At this time of the evening, fewer servants were around as they went about their various duties in the house, but the kitchen was always a busy place. Even now, she could hear clattering in the big room and the cook shouting at everyone.

Hoping nobody would see her, she hurried past the door and down the hall to the side door. That led out into the stable area, and the grooms would be busy brushing down the horses and getting them ready for the night. If anyone saw her in the dim lighting, they would mistake her for one of the factory workers who liked to scale the wall and cut through the garden and stables to get to the main road. Caroline had heard the head stable lad shouting at someone for taking a liberty as he just wouldn’t stop taking a shortcut through a marquis’ property.

If she were lucky, nobody would notice her now.

“Do you think David will be back tomorrow?”

Caroline froze. Why could she hear her mother’s voice? Then she realised that she was coming up to a window that looked into the drawing room, and the window was open. On a warm night like this, every window in the house was open to let a breeze come through.

Caroline paused as she crouched under the window. She could imagine her mother sitting in her usual chair by the window, either with a book or her sewing, while her father, the Marquis of Hampshire, was settled near the fireplace, usually with a book of his own. They were people who could be sociable when required, but they preferred their own company and simply spent their time together reading when they weren’t talking.

She had never met a more comfortable couple than her parents.

“Why do you ask that, dear?” Caroline could hear her father’s voice clear through the window. “Are you concerned about our son?”

“A little bit. I mean, Caroline’s been saying that something’s happened and that we need to tell someone about it.” Lady Hampshire sighed. “I guess she’s making me nervous, and I’m uncomfortable after her concerns.”

“Darling, Caroline makes a lot of fuss over nothing. She’s just upset that David didn’t send her a note to say he would be back soon. David’s just forgot.”

“Even so …”

“David’s with his friends. They’ve got him incredibly drunk, and he’s just forgot. Besides, he’s almost thirty. I think he’s old enough to do his own thing without us hovering over him.”

Caroline heard her mother sigh.

“I know you’re right. It’s just when our daughter starts talking about he’s in danger, and she won’t stop, then it is difficult not to think if he has got himself into trouble.”

Hampshire snorted.

“More than likely, he’s got someone else into trouble, and he’s too scared to come back to face the repercussions.”

“Or he’s been gambling too much again.” Her mother didn’t sound happy. “He promised that he would stop.”

“Our son makes a lot of promises. He doesn’t keep them. I love him, but his reluctance to stop what he enjoys doing is driving me mad.” Hampshire let out a heavy sigh. “I’m at the point where I will have to cut him off and make him earn his money. He’s been going through the allowance we give him, and I don’t think he has any money to his name now. I’m sure he’s stolen some from me.”

Lady Hampshire gasped.

“He can’t have done that! Wild that he is, he’s not a thief.”

“Then how do you explain the money that’s gone from my desk? I was holding onto that ready to take to the bank, and it’s now gone. What am I supposed to think about that? Accuse the servants?”

“Of course not, dear …”

“The only person who has money issues in the house is David, and if the money is gone, then it’s safe to say that he’s stolen it.”

Caroline couldn’t believe what she was hearing. David had never stolen from anyone. He would never do that, especially not to his family.

“I’m not going to call the authorities on him, but if he’s taking it to gamble with, then he’ll be getting cut off for good. We can’t go on like this if he’s resorted to taking money from me.” Hampshire sounded resigned. “We just need to wait for him to come back. Maybe shame as well as drink is keeping him away.”

“I suppose you’re right,” Lady Hampshire said sadly. “I just wish we knew where he was. It is concerning for me.”

“You’re his mother, and you have a right to worry, but he’s a grown man. Let him deal with his problems on his own.”

Caroline heard a rustling behind her, and she turned to see Jack, the dog that belonged to the head stable lad, trotting over to her. She had to leave now. If Jack started barking, people were going to come looking. She couldn’t be caught now.

Moving away from the window, she began to jog towards the gate. Jack started barking and chased after her. Caroline picked up the pace, not waiting to see if anyone saw her movements. She was out of the gate and closing it before Jack got to her. The dog bounced up at the bars, still barking.

Caroline could hear someone shouting, and she ran off down the street. She turned two corners, heading into the next street, and finally slowed down as she reached the park. She could cut through there, and then she would be heading towards Whitechapel, where David liked to go with his friends. If she were lucky, she would be able to find out where her brother had gone. Providing Jimmy, the footman, and Ruth didn’t tell her parents what she was doing, there shouldn’t be any problem.

I hope I find you soon, David. Your absence is making me nervous, and I don’t like it.

Turning up her collar and adjusting her hat, Caroline kept her head down and hurried along.

#

Martin sighed and ran a hand through his dark hair as Robert ordered another round.

“I think you’ve had enough, Robert. That is your fifth drink, after all.”

“Nonsense. I’ve barely had anything.” Robert paid the bartender and pushed off the bar, wobbling a little as he straightened up. His blond hair was soaked with sweat, and his cheeks were ruddier than normal. “Are you sure you don’t want to join in with us? You’re a really good card player, and I know you’ll be able to wipe the floor with them.”

“You do realise that includes you in that statement.”

“We can wipe the floor with them together.” Robert nudged Martin’s shoulder in a gesture that felt like he was punching him. “What do you say? You want to come and play?”

“I’m quite happy sitting here with my drink.” Martin held up his glass. “You go and enjoy yourself. But please don’t spend everything.”

Robert rolled his eyes.

“Of course, I won’t. I’m not going to go overboard.”

“You said that the last time we were in here.”

Robert made a mumbling sound, and then he was stumbling away back to the table where he had been playing cards with three other regulars. Martin watched as he sat down and took a swig of his whisky before they started playing the next hand. He couldn’t see much afterwards with the bustle of bodies and the thick smoke swirling around the room. It was making his eyes water. Why did public taverns still allow smoking inside? There was a reason he mostly avoided these places if he could.

He sighed and sipped his whisky, feeling the burn go down his throat. There were times when he wondered why he was still friends with Robert Young. The man loved his drink, loved to gamble, and he did both to excess. With his father being a duke and always bailing him out, no matter what the amount, Robert felt like he could do whatever he wanted.

Martin had stopped doing that a while ago. He didn’t mind the occasional drink now, but he didn’t do it every night. And he certainly didn’t gamble away money he had to keep an eye on. Robert might have had a duke for a father to help him out, but Martin was a duke himself. He had to be responsible for his own actions. Coming into seedy gambling halls hidden away from the public wasn’t his idea of fun and how to spend an evening.

But if it meant keeping an eye on his friend and making sure he didn’t get into trouble, he would happily do it. Robert was one of the few proper friends he had left. After Martin inherited the title of Duke of Hanworth after the sudden death of his father, he had begun to distance himself from his friends. They would have got him into serious trouble, and Martin knew he couldn’t afford that. His mindset changed, and he needed to remember who he was now. A title didn’t get him out of a serious gambling debt.

At least his slate was clean, and his waistline was better than it had ever been. Drinking so much alcohol did not do well for his weight. Now Martin could look himself in the mirror without grimacing. Leaner, healthier, and he didn’t look like he spent all his time in a sweathouse. He didn’t miss looking red-faced sweaty at all. He actually looked decent enough that he could go out in public instead of hiding around the dark streets with people who would be too drunk to care.

He just needed to stop coming completely. But that wouldn’t stop him worrying about Robert. Hopefully, he would realise that he was going to struggle to get out of the hole he was in, and then it would stop, but Martin didn’t hold out hope on it actually happening soon.

Martin turned away, and then his eye was caught by a slight figure wearing what looked like a servant’s clothing moving through the crowd, keeping to the edge and still with her hat on, brim low to avoid looking at anyone.

Martin knew it was a woman, even in the dim lighting. It could have been a youthful-looking man, but there was no hiding the curves. They were subtle enough that nobody would really notice in the low light and with pretty much everyone drinking.

But Martin noticed. And that got his curiosity up. What on earth was she doing?

He watched as she talked to someone leaning against the wall, keeping her hat relatively low over her eyes. The man responded, but he was peering at her oddly. Did he suspect she was a woman? Martin knew it would be bad if anyone in here discovered a woman in the room. It was not the place for the ladies; a lot of the men were rather unsavoury. She wouldn’t be able to leave until they had had some unsavoury fun with her.

Martin could not stand by and let her go through that. And, if he were honest, he was curious as to why she was here. It wasn’t every day that a woman sneaked into a gambling hall. Maybe she was looking to play cards herself? Or maybe she was looking for someone?

Either way, it was dangerous.

Finishing his drink, Martin made his way across the room. The woman was still talking to the man leaning against the wall, but now he looked more suspicious. He definitely suspected something.

Just as Martin was getting closer, the man grabbed her arm. She gasped, and Martin saw her eyes widen. He hurried over.

“There you are, Andrew! I was beginning to wonder where you were!”

She turned and stared at him. Martin arched an eyebrow at her and gave her a slight nod. Swallowing, she nodded back.

“I was held up.” She spoke with a deep voice that didn’t really sound convincing. “Apologies for that.”

The man was still holding onto her arm. His eyes narrowed at Martin.

“You know this person, Sir?”

“Of course. This is my cousin, Andrew. He’s been wanting to explore London, so I offered to give him a tour.” Martin shook his head at the woman. “You definitely need to get better on your timekeeping, cousin. It’s irritating to wait when you’ve got something planned.”

Her mouth opened and closed. Then she nodded.

“I know. My apologies.”

“I’ll forgive you, but don’t make it a habit.” Martin eyed the hand on her arm. “Would you mind letting go, sir? That’s not necessary.”

The man didn’t look that convinced, but he let her go.

“Tell your cousin not to ask questions when people are just minding their own business. And I don’t want to hear about David Birks again. Not unless you want to tell me where he is so I can get my money.”

“I assure you, Sir,” the woman held up her hands, “I have no idea where he is. I just wanted to see if an old friend was around.”

“Well, you keep some strange friends. I’d advise you to get some new friends before he starts asking you for money. He doesn’t keep friends for long when he keeps borrowing all the time.”

Martin was confused. She was looking for someone? Was it a relative? A lover? A relative made it more likely; a lover wasn’t that stupid to go into a gambling hall without a chaperone. He took her arm and urged her away.

“Come on, let’s go. We’ve got an appointment, and we’ll be late if we don’t hurry up.”

They hurried away before any further questions could be asked and went through the side door into the alley. Here, they would be uninterrupted. It was dark enough with plenty of hiding places, so they wouldn’t be disturbed if anyone came stumbling out this side.

Martin let go of her as they stepped into the alley. She adjusted her coat and hat.

“Thank you, Sir.” She carried on with the deep voice. “I was beginning to think I would get into a fight.”

“If he had said to everyone that you were a woman, you wouldn’t have been in a fight.”

She froze.

“I’m not a woman.”

Martin sighed.

“I’m not interested in arguing about this. I know you’re a woman. You might be able to fool drunk men who are more interested in gambling away their money, but you can’t fool me.”

He took her hat off, revealing golden blonde hair pinned up on top of her head. He took in the pale, smooth skin, the startling blue eyes, and the delicate curve of her mouth. She also had a very shapely neck. From what he could see, a very pretty young woman.

Wearing men’s clothing. It was really odd. And it left Martin curious.

She looked panicked, her body tense as if she would run away.

“You’re not going to give me away, are you? I can’t afford that to happen.”

“Why are you dressed like this, anyway?”

“I … I was just looking for a friend. That’s all.”

That was very vague and very unlikely. Martin snorted and folded his arms.

“Looking for a friend. Dressed like that. That makes it sound like a romantic assignation.”

Her eyes widened. So not a romantic rendezvous, then. Somehow, that made Martin somewhat relieved. He didn’t think any man would want their sweetheart to come sneaking into a place with only men. That was not only dangerous, but it should also have been criminal.

“I think you can do better than that, young lady.”

“It’s the truth!”

“I don’t believe that at all. You’re clearly not from around here, so that tells me you come from money. If you have a lover of a lower rank, even he wouldn’t want you to be around here unless he’s a fool. A pretty girl like you wouldn’t survive five minutes in there the moment people find out without you getting molested.”

Her mouth fell open.

“I … you didn’t molest me.”

“Because I like to be respectful towards women. And, unlike you, I think your reputation is more important.”

“Are you sure about that?” She put her hands on her hips. “You’re here, and you’re clearly a gentleman. You don’t care about your reputation. What will happen to yours if people know you’re here?”

“I’ve been coming here for years. My status may have changed, but not much when it comes to my reputation. Besides,” Martin gestured towards the door, “I don’t gamble anymore. I just go to keep an eye on a friend and make sure he’s not being foolish.”

“How do I know you’re telling the truth?”

“You don’t. But I’m not molesting you, and I got you away from someone who definitely would.”

They stared at each other. Martin could feel something crackling in the air. It hadn’t been there before, but now it was present, and it was tingling across his skin. What was going on there?

Taking a deep breath, he held out her hat.

“Look, it’s not exactly the best place to have an introduction, but rest assured I wouldn’t hurt you.”

“How do I know that?” she demanded.

“Because I give you my word.” Martin gave her a bow. “I’m Martin Lilley, Duke of Hanworth. Now, may I have the pleasure of knowing your name, or am I just going to speak to you as if you don’t exist? For a lady like yourself, that is not something I’m comfortable with.”

Chapter Two

Caroline knew she was lucky to have someone come to her rescue after that man grabbed her. She had been panicking, hoping that she wouldn’t bring attention to them and that she could get away before he really guessed she was a woman. And then her saviour in the shape of the Duke of Hanworth had turned up.

It had been difficult to keep her composure when she got her first look at him. Caroline had met handsome gentlemen in Society, but none of them had made her pulse race like Hanworth did. Tall, well-built, dark-haired with brown eyes that never seemed to leave her face, he was certainly a sight to behold. Especially when he gave her a smile that could make her weak at the knees.

Caroline was only just beginning to realise that she was standing before him with her figure clad in men’s clothing, so he could see her legs. True, they were in breeches, but women weren’t supposed to wear them. That was an improper thing to do. And Caroline was doing something that could get women into serious trouble.

She never knew men could go insane over women showing their legs, even in breeches, but now she understood it.

Hanworth watched her, his head tilted to one side.

“So?”

“What?”

“I’ve introduced myself. And if you do have manners, I would like to know your name.”

Caroline bristled.

“I do have manners!”

“Says the lady who’s wearing men’s clothing. Where did you get them, by the way?”

“I borrowed them from one of the servants.”

His eyebrow twitched.

“So, you are a lady.”

Caroline swallowed.

“My name is Caroline Birks. I’m the daughter of the Marquis of Hampshire.”

“A marquis’ daughter in Whitechapel? That’s a new one.” Then Hanworth blinked, and his eyes narrowed. “Wait, I heard that man inside say Birks. Any relation?”

“My brother. He disappeared a few days ago, and nobody’s heard from him.”

“And now you’re looking for him.”

Caroline nodded. She wished he wouldn’t stare at her like that; it made her uncomfortable.

“I’m worried. He never goes missing like this. He always tells us where he is and when he’ll be back. But not this time. I need to find him.”

“And that includes going into places you shouldn’t?”

Caroline felt her face getting warm. She tried not to shuffle from foot to foot. There was something about him that made parts of her body wobbly.

“He’s known to gamble quite a bit, and asking around, I know this is a popular haunt. I was planning on finding a friend or two who were less worried about their reputation to point me in the right direction.”

“Friends who were less worried about their reputation.” Hanworth frowned. “You say you’ve asked all his friends you know of already?”

“I have, but none of them know where he is. When I asked them to take me here so I could look for David, they said absolutely not, and while they were willing to risk their reputations for a thrill with the cards, they weren’t going to do that with me around.”

“And that’s the right thing to say. It’s not appropriate for you to be around here. Especially at night and dressed as you are. You should be keeping away.”

He was right, but Caroline wasn’t about to admit it. She squared her shoulders.

“I can take care of myself. I’m not completely helpless.”

“I saw you moments away from grappling with a man twice your size. Would you like to say that again?”

They stared at each other. Caroline knew she couldn’t deny it for much longer. She really was in over her head. This was not the way to go about it. But if no one else would look for David, what other choice did she have?

“What do you expect me to do, Your Grace? Sit at home and expect David to come home on his own?”

“Pretty much.”

“That’s not going to happen. My instincts say that David is in trouble, and I’m not going to quit looking for him until I’m certain that he’s safe. I need to see that he’s all right with my own eyes. Only then will I back down.”

Hanworth looked like he wasn’t sure whether to be impressed or concerned. He looked her up and down, and it felt like he was taking in every part of her body.

“You need to head home now,” he said finally. “If you stay here any longer and that man comes out …”

“It was my last place of the night, anyway. I was going to head home once I’d checked this out.” Caroline held out a hand. “Now, please may I have my hat? I’ll leave, and you don’t have to worry about me anymore.”

“What?” Hanworth stared. “You’re just going to walk back on your own?”

“Why not? I’ve done it before, and I always keep to the well-lit areas.”

“Well-lit areas. In London.” He shook his head. “If you just wait a moment, I’ll get you into my carriage, and I’ll take you home.”

He would take her home. Caroline began to panic. He couldn’t do that. He shouldn’t. They were already pushing it in terms of propriety. Travelling in a carriage alone when she was dressed like this …

“I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“It’s not proper.”

Hanworth burst out laughing.

“You’re standing in front of me wearing men’s clothing, and you’re saying that travelling in a carriage with me isn’t proper? Do you realise how silly that sounds?”

“You don’t need to laugh about it.”

“I must. It’s either that or shake you for turning down an offer of safety.” Hanworth held out her hat. “I don’t even have to drop you right outside your home if that’s what you’re worried about. But knowing you’ve got home safely will make me feel better. If anything, just humour me?”

Caroline knew she would be foolish to turn this down. She didn’t want to accept, but deep down she knew he was right. She shouldn’t be out there alone like this. It was a miracle she hadn’t been accosted already. Without the footpads of the city, they would go straight for her, even if she was wearing clothing that showed she was of a lower status.

It just took one slip from her, and that was gone. And there wouldn’t be the Duke of Hanworth around to rescue her.

Sighing, she snatched her hat from his fingers and put it on.

“All right, fine. I’ll let you take me home. But please don’t give me away. If my parents find out about this …”

“They should have a right to know what you’re up to. What if you got hurt?”

“I’m not looking for a fight.”

“You will get one if you carry on like this. And what if something else happens?” Hanworth went on. “A marquis’ daughter could fetch a hefty price if she crossed the wrong person.”

Caroline swallowed. She hadn’t thought about it like that. She had only been focused on finding David. Go in, ask questions, go back out again. That was it. She looked at the ground.

“I didn’t properly think this through, did I?”

“Not really.” Hanworth sighed. “Look, I do see what you’re trying to do, and I admire your courage. But doing this on your own with no chaperone and nobody knows where you are … that’s really dangerous. Anything could happen to you, and if something bad has happened to your brother, your parents will lose both their children.”

Caroline felt like she was being scolded, but she did need this. Someone needed to knock a little bit of sense into her. Not much, but a bit. And it was just her luck that it had to come from the best-looking man she had encountered in a while.

She couldn’t look at him. Caroline kept staring at the ground. Now she felt ashamed.

A noise behind her had Caroline spinning around, almost tripping over her feet. Hanworth caught her, easing her back upright.

“Take it easy,” he whispered near her ear. “It’s just my friend. I think he’s had enough.”

A tall, slim man with fading blond hair was staggering around the alley. He was mumbling under his breath, growling when a coat followed him out of the door and hit him in the back. A hat followed soon after, and he was knocked forward into the opposite wall. Then he lay on the ground unmoving.

Caroline stared.

“Is he alright?”

“He’ll be fine. He’s just had too much to drink. I think the owners have had enough of him.” Hanworth sighed. “I’m going to need to get him into the carriage. Once that’s done, I’ll take you home.”

“Are you sure?”

“It will make me feel better knowing that you’re safe.” Hanworth’s breath tickled her ear, making Caroline shiver. “I like to think of myself as a gentleman.”

Caroline knew she didn’t have much choice. If she refused, Hanworth would find a way to follow her. And, if she were being honest, she didn’t want him to move away. She could still feel his hands touching her arms as he let go, and the heat of his body disappeared. Caroline wanted to wrap herself back in that.

What are you doing? Your mind is wandering again. Focus and get yourself home.

Get herself home. Empty-handed. Not what Caroline wanted.

#

Moving Robert was going to be interesting. He was slim, but that didn’t mean he was light. Martin had moved him before, and he had damaged his back. That had not been fun for the few weeks after that.

He needed to let go of Caroline first, if he was going to move Robert at all. And Martin didn’t really want to. He had an urge to pull her in close and see if he could feel her body better with men’s clothing on.

He let go abruptly. His mind was wandering off in a direction that it shouldn’t. His thoughts were bordering on inappropriate in nature. Just minutes after meeting the enigmatic Caroline Birks, he was already thinking about pawing her like an animal. That had to stop.

Even so, the sensations he felt just by touching her were remarkable.

Martin mentally shook himself and went to the end of the alley. His carriage had been sitting across the street the whole time, his driver and one of his footmen as an armed guard keeping an eye on the transport. Martin gave a shrill whistle, which had both men turning. The footman jumped down, still holding onto his rifle, and jogged across the street to join him.

“Your Grace?”

“I’m going to need your help, Mackey. Lord Young has had a bit too much, and he’s now in a state where he can’t walk by himself.” Martin gestured towards Robert’s unconscious body. “I’m going to need help getting him into the carriage.”

“Of course, Your Grace.”

Mackey then looked past Martin, and he frowned. Martin turned back to see Caroline hovering in the shadows. She had drifted back after he walked away. He held out a hand towards her.

“It’s all right. You don’t need to hide.”

Caroline shuffled out of the shadows, keeping her gaze averted as she approached them. Mackey’s mouth dropped open.

“Is that … a woman … wearing men’s clothes?”

“Just get Walters to bring the carriage over and then help me get Lord Young inside, Mackey.”

Mackey’s mouth snapped closed, and he hurried away. Caroline bit her lip.

“Your servants aren’t going to talk about this, are they? I don’t want people to know about this.”

“They won’t say a word. Chances are, they probably won’t recognise you when you’re wearing your proper attire.” Martin touched a hand to his chest. “I promise, I won’t say anything if you don’t wish me to.”

Caroline licked her lips, and Martin tried really hard not to stare at her mouth. She did have a nicely shaped mouth …

He shook himself. God, his mind was really wondering. This was, pretty much, a perfect stranger to him, and he was already thinking about taking her in his arms and kissing her.

Maybe he should cut out on drinking altogether. It was making him think this about women who weren’t here for his male attention. Caroline didn’t deserve to have him think about her in such a manner, not when she needed help. But she did intrigue him. She was brave, without a doubt, spritely and confident. A sharp gleam in her eye said she was quite an intelligent woman. Not intelligent enough to know this was a stupid idea, but a very sharp individual.

She was not like any woman he had come across. Then again, most of the women he met wouldn’t be going into seedy gambling halls dressed like a man asking questions about someone that could get them into trouble.

Caroline Birks was headstrong, that much he was aware of.

The carriage was brought around, and Mackey handed his rifle to Walters before joining Martin again.

“Ready when you are, Your Grace.”

“Good.” Martin glanced at Caroline. “My Lady, if you get in first, we’ll join you in a moment.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m sure. Go.”

Caroline hesitated and then went to the carriage, glancing back again before disappearing inside. Martin could only hope she didn’t jump out the other side and walk off.

Robert was snoring loudly as Martin and Mackey picked him up. Even though he was holding onto the legs, Martin still staggered under the weight. With a lot of grunting and muffled curses, the pair managed to get Robert into the carriage. Mackey went back to get Robert’s coat and hat, ducking into the gambling hall to fetch Martin’s. He had almost forgot about his own attire, but Martin had no intention of going back in tonight.

He got into the carriage and shut the door, keeping the windows open to let the moonlight in. Robert was spread out over the seats, still snoring. Caroline sat across from him, staring at him with an open mouth. Martin tried not to stand on Robert’s legs as he sat beside her.

“Lady Caroline?”

“He behaves so much like my brother; it’s frightening.”

Martin laughed.

“Your brother wouldn’t be the first young man to gamble, drink until they can’t stand up, and stumble around in dark alleys. I doubt he’ll be the last.”

“This is more than stumbling around in a dark alley, Your Grace. Not even his friends have heard from him.” Caroline frowned. “Not saying anything to me and our parents about where he is would be bad enough, but when he hasn’t contacted any of our friends? That’s not good.”

Martin had to admit that did make it look odd. A grown man not telling his family where he was wouldn’t immediately throw up concern for him, but when he’s not talking to his friends … it either meant he didn’t want them in trouble, or …

Or David Birks is dead.

Martin shoved that thought away. That couldn’t be the explanation. There had to be something going on. If Caroline were lucky, it was just her brother sleeping off a hard hit, and he would be home in the morning.

But, somehow, deep down, that didn’t settle his concerns.

The carriage rocked a little, and then it set off. Martin turned to Caroline.

“Where do you live? I’ll pass the directions on.”

Caroline gave them to him, and Martin leaned out of the window to relay them to Walters. His driver knew not to ask questions. He kept to himself and did what was asked of him. Martin appreciated that.

He settled back in the seat and turned to Caroline. She had taken her hat off and was starting to take the pins out of her hair with a tired sigh.

“I guess there’s no point in having my hair up if I’m being taken home.”

“People are going to ask questions if they see you like that.”

“I can handle it.”

Martin tried not to stare as he watched the blonde curls fall and trail down Caroline’s back. He had never thought seeing a woman letting her hair down could be so enticing. He was glad that it was dark, and Caroline couldn’t see him sitting there with his mouth open.

“How long have you been out doing this?” he asked. “Was tonight the first time?”

“Yes.”

“When did you start?”

Caroline didn’t look at him as she continued to take the pins out, dropping them into her hat.

“I left the house about eight-thirty.”

“It’s gone midnight. You’ve been doing this for almost four hours?”

Martin couldn’t believe it. It was ridiculous that she had managed to get away with this for nearly four hours. Caroline was very lucky that she hadn’t been found out already.

“I was going to go home shortly!” Caroline protested. “I wasn’t going to do anything stupid.”

“Says the woman who’s wandering around wearing men’s clothes asking about her brother in the wrong places.”

He was sure her cheeks darkened at that. She did look very pretty when she blushed. Caroline didn’t look at him, keeping her eyes averted.

“You wouldn’t understand.”

“I understand a lot. And I also understand that you should really steer clear of areas like Whitechapel. You shouldn’t go about doing what you are, especially without a chaperone.”

“Do you expect me to go around town as a woman with an escort asking questions? I’ll be accosted more if I do that, and I doubt I’ll get any proper answers.”

“You’re not going to get any either way if you just wander around the places you’re sure he went to.”

“I know he went there on the night he disappeared. I heard him talking about it with a friend.” Caroline turned to him. “Something must have happened to him in that place. I went everywhere before going to that gambling hall, and nobody’s seen David lately. Something must have happened to him in there.”

Martin frowned.

“You actually got answers from people?”

“This disguise did fool some people. I did get answers.”

“I wouldn’t say you got answers if you’re still going around. They could have given you false answers to mess with you.”

“I need to know where he is!”

“And you’re not going to get the answers you want from people who don’t trust you. Quite a few criminals frequent those gambling halls, including the one we were in. While there may be some members of the nobility inside, you’re not going to guarantee seeing them with all the undesirables. Besides,” Martin added, “you wouldn’t be able to get them to trust you. Not if you go diving straight in.”

Caroline scowled.

“What am I supposed to do, then?”

“Wait until he comes home. Maybe he’ll be back in the morning.”

Caroline shook her head.

“I don’t think he will be back. I’m sure of it.”

Martin could see he wasn’t going to get through to her. She was determined. He had to admire her for that, but this probably wasn’t the best time.

The carriage came to a slow halt, and Martin looked out. Even with the streetlamps lit, it was pitch black, and there was some fog. He had no idea where they were.

He leaned out the window.

“Are we there, Walters?”

“Yes, Your Grace.”

“I’m just around the corner from here.” Caroline twisted her hair up and carefully put her hat back on, tucking some stray pins that fell out into her pocket. “I’ll just sneak in through the servants’ quarters. Nobody’s going to be awake, and I took the key to the side door.”

“I would still like to get you to the front door without being accosted.”

“I’ll be fine. The streetlamps are always lit, and we have a dog that will cause a ruckus if anything happens.” Caroline paused. “Thank you, Your Grace. You were very kind helping me. You didn’t need to.”

“Yes, I did. What sort of gentleman would I be?” Martin leaned over and opened the door for her. “Just be careful, and don’t do anything foolish.”

“I’ll try not to.” Caroline touched his arm, and then she shifted towards the door. “Thank you again.”

She got out, turning back to look at Martin before she shut the door. Then she disappeared. Martin shifted across the seat and looked out the window to watch her walk away. She walked with a confident stride, her head up and showing that she had purpose. Martin never thought he would find looking at a woman in men’s attire arousing.

Caroline Birks was one remarkable, albeit strange, woman.

Robert made a noise and started stirring. His eyes were barely open as he slurred his words.

“Did I hear a woman in here?”

Martin sighed.

“Go to sleep, Robert.”


“Conquering a Fiery Marchioness” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

The ravishing Caroline Birks, daughter of a Marquess, knows something is wrong when her brother goes missing. Trying to find him in the seedier parts of London, she ends up being rescued by a wicked Duke. Completely impervious to his charms, will Charlotte accept the seductive stranger’s help in order to find her missing brother?

What will happen when he starts winding down her walls, awakening her lustful desires?

Martin Lilley, the Duke of Hanworth, only goes out to unsavoury parts of London to keep an eye on his friend who drinks his money away. Little did he know that one fateful night, he would have to rescue the most tempting woman he has ever seen. Knowing that danger may be just around the corner, will he be able to persuade her to back down before she gets hurt?

Trying to save her from one evil only to pull her into another…

As Caroline searches for her brother and uncovers the debts he is running from, she realises that she might have put a target on herself. Can Martin stop her before it gets too risky or is he destined to lose her forever? When everything seems to be falling apart, will Caroline and Martin find the courage to remain true to their flaming passion or will their happy ending slip through their fingers?

“Conquering a Fiery Marchioness” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

Get your copy from Amazon!

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