Excerpt: One Night With A Rake
Written with Connie Mason
The Royal Rakes, Book 2
It didn’t take long for Nathaniel to find the Marquis of Yorkingham’s magnificent carriage in Covent Garden. It was drawing a sizable crowd of lookee-loos in the squalid neighborhood.
The footman and the driver were doing their best to keep the riffraff from disturbing the matched pair of bays, but they couldn’t keep light-fingered wretches from breaking off pieces of the elegant gilt filigree on the back side of the coach. One enterprising crone had even reached into the windows with a pair of shears and liberated a section of the velvet curtains.
“I hear that the Marquis of Yorkingham’s daughter has wandered into these environs and I’m concerned for her welfare,” Nate said to the footman. “Can you tell me where Lady Georgette has gone?”
The fellow flicked him with a quick assessing glance. Nate was glad he’d taken pains with his appearance. Even if his cuffs hadn’t glinted with gold, the cut of his clothing proclaimed him a gentleman. Relief sagged the footman’s shoulders.
“I’m fair concerned myself, milord. Her ladyship went down Lackaday Lane with her maid. Halfway down, red door, Mercy said. That’s where they’re bound. I’d have gone with milady,” the footman said, “but she left strict orders as I was to stay with the carriage.”
“Then you’d better do so, my good man. But be ready to go on the quick. I have a feeling the sooner Lady Georgette vacates this place, the better. Oh, and hang onto my hat and garrick until I return, would you?” Nate would have given the fellow his jacket as well since he fully expected fisticuffs at the least in the very near future, but it was far too cold to go without it.
The footman tugged his forelock in assent and Nate strode away down the fetid alley.
What on earth is the silly goose up to?
The lewd antics of the Prince Regent’s court had sparked a backlash in some quarters. Since returning to London, Nathaniel had encountered his share of moralists intent on improving everyone within earshot. Evidently, Georgette had become one of those insufferable bores.
Only a few “ladies of the night” were larks as well, but a handful had already positioned themselves by the windows in varying degrees of dishabille in order to entice new patrons. They blew kisses to Nate, and one of the bolder ones displayed her charms to him by dropping her filmy wrapper off one smooth shoulder.
He didn’t slow his pace.
Did Georgette really believe she could bring an end to prostitution? Women fell into the life because it was easier than domestic service and the pay was buckets better. And men frequented light-heeled lasses because they were…well, men.
There was no stopping it.
Lady Georgette might as well try to make the sun go backward in the sky.
He lengthened his stride as he searched his memory for some glimpse of her. Truth to tell, he found few of them.
Touch of a ThiefIt seemed Georgette had always been there, on the fringes of social and family gatherings, taking part, but certainly not taking the lead. A bookish sort, he recalled. Not that she was an ugly duckling. Georgette was pretty enough, in the manner of a small brown squirrel, he supposed. Simply unremarkable. He didn’t remember her ever expressing a strong opinion on anything.
When had she turned into a fire-breathing crusader?
He heard a loud wail from up ahead and broke into a trot.
Must be the fire-breathing crusader herself.
What a colossal waste of time. He could have told her that no bawd would sit on her hands while some “holier-than-thou” made off with her meal tickets.
When he reached the red door, the unmistakable crash of broken crockery resounded behind it, along with another shriek. Nathaniel put his shoulder to the portal and gave it a shove.
The door swung open so quickly, he stumbled into the parlor, barely keeping his feet.
“Release me at once, you beast!” came a vaguely familiar voice.
The owner of it was slung over the shoulder of a monstrous big chap. He was carting the woman up the staircase. Judging from her fine clothing and ridiculously fashionable hat, she could only be Lady Georgette. A girl with a mobcap, who was likely Georgette’s maid, hopped up and down at the foot of the stairs, yelping like a demented pup. The giant ignored her pleas and, despite Georgette’s fists pummeling his back, he continued his ascent as if she were no more trouble to carry than a goodly-sized sack of yams.
“I insist you unhand me this instant!” she demanded.
“I’ll un-something ye, missy, and no mistake.” The fellow pronounced “I’ll” as if it were “oil.” “Madam always lets ol’ Duggins prick her new girls first. Break ye in good and proper, I will.”
“That’s not going to happen,” Nathaniel said in a calm, strong voice from his position at the threshold.
Georgette’s head jerked up and their gazes met. “Lord Nathaniel?”
“Lady Georgette.” Nathaniel gave her an elegant bow. The ridiculousness of the situation seemed to call for it. Even with her hazel eyes wide with indignation-she’d probably never admit it was fear as well-her oval face was far prettier than he remembered. “The years have been kind, my lady.”
The big chap on the staircase glanced over his shoulder and glowered at him. Georgette stared at Nate as if she still didn’t quite believe he was there.
A smile skittered across her features, accompanied by an appealing blush. Then the smile disappeared, though her high color remained, as she turned her attention back to her captor. She gave the man another thump between his shoulder blades to no avail. The bully turned around and shot Nate an evil, black-toothed grin, presenting the lady’s very shapely backside to him.
“What on earth…are you doing here…Nathaniel?” Georgette asked between repeated blows on the man’s ungiving back.
“Coming to your assistance, of course.” Nathaniel wondered if she had any idea how fetching her bum was waving in the air like that, her gown clenched tight across her hips. Even though she showed no skin beyond a fair bit of ankle and occasional calf when she struggled, Georgette was far more appealing than the lightskirts he’d seen on the way in to this den of Delilah’s.
The old Georgette would have been cringing in a corner. Now trapped in a situation that might daunt several men Nate knew, she was fighting back. And in a society where most debutants’ heads were filled with only lace and girlish dreams, Lady Georgette was at least trying to help someone else, no matter how misguided those efforts.
Somehow, she had shed her unremarkable past to become…an interesting woman. Against Nathaniel’s expectations, an approving grin spread across his face.
Then she ruined his new assessment of her when she spoke with an acid tone. “If you intend to assist me, Lord Nathaniel, I suggest you do so. Quickly.”
Nate shoved past the maid, bounded up the steps, and planted his fist in the big fellow’s belly. When the man doubled over with a grunt, Nate pried Georgette from his arms and swung her around behind him. He expected her to bolt, but instead she remained on the staircase only a few steps below him, chattering something about someone named Vesta and how they couldn’t leave without her.
The big fellow recovered from Nate’s first blow to his midsection and began swinging. Nathaniel ducked and backed down the stairs, with Georgette crowding him from behind.
“Generally speaking, women who are being rescued are not so bossy,” he told her.
“And generally speaking, men who come to their rescue have a plan,” she snapped as she moved reluctantly down the stairs with him. “One would hope you had the presence of mind to bring a pistol.”
Touch of a Thief”Afraid not.”
The man’s next swing barely missed Nate’s head and instead left a ham-sized dent in the crumbling plaster wall. The bully swore the air blue and shook his injured paw, but he kept advancing steadily.
“What about a sword?” Georgette asked.
“Left it in the parlor.” Nathaniel landed another punch to the bully’s chest. His chin was too high to reach since he was up a couple steps from Nate. Even if they’d been on equal footing, Nathaniel would have to move quickly to connect a solid blow to the big man’s jaw. His opponent had a serious advantage in length of arm. “Mother likes the way it looks over the mantel.”
“Surely you’ve a boot knife.”
“In my other boots.” He turned quickly to scoop Georgette up and carry her the rest of the way down the stairs since she didn’t seem to realize now would have been the right time for her to take to her heels. The bully lumbered after them. Nate was grateful that his opponent’s size also seemed to mean he was slow. “Lud, but you’ve become a bloodthirsty wench, my Lady Georgette.”
“You’ve no idea what I’ve become. We haven’t seen each other in years. And I’m certainly not your lady.” She pushed hard against his chest. “Put me down. Oof!”
He complied so quickly she barely had time to get her feet under her before he dropped her and turned back to face the madam’s henchman. Nate considered himself tall, but this fellow topped him by half a head and easily outweighed him by two or three stone.
“Here.” Georgette pulled an umbrella from the stand near the door and shoved the curved handle into his hand.
“What am I to do with this?”
“How should I know?” If she wouldn’t run away, at least she had sense enough to position herself behind him. “You’re the one who’s doing the rescuing.”
The bully put his head down and charged them. Nate sidestepped at the last moment, dragging Georgette with him, and the man barreled past them, roaring obscenities. Nate flipped the umbrella in his hand and used the curved handle to catch the bully’s ankle.
The big man fell headlong and slid across the bare hardwood, propelled by his own momentum, till his crown met the baseboard of the far wall with a loud thwack. He rose shakily on his elbows. Then he sank with a grunt and his forehead smacked the hardwood. The bully lay still as a corpse.
Georgette’s pink mouth formed a perfect O and her face went white as paper. “You’ve killed him.”
“Better him than me.” Nate bent to take a closer look at his downed foe. The man’s ribs expanded and contracted with deep breaths. “But no such luck. He’s just senseless. When he wakes, he’ll have a headache from Hades.”
Georgette folded her gloved hands before her primly. “There’s no need to be vulgar.”
“My lady, I’m exercising extreme discretion. You have no idea how badly this situation calls for me to be vulgar.” Nate grabbed her hand and led her out the faded red door. By the time they reached the wretched cobbles, squeals and shrieks erupted behind them as the madam and her girls discovered the inert body of their protector. The little maid Nate had noticed earlier followed hard after them as if her pantalets were on fire.
Georgette tugged against his grip, planting her feet. “No, we have to go back. We don’t have Vesta.”
“What you don’t have, milady, is sense.”
The maid outpaced them, knees and elbows pumping, and fled past, yelling for someone named Reuben.
“But you don’t understand-” Georgette began.
“No, you obviously don’t understand the peril you’re in.” Behind her, an older woman in a blue dressing gown a decade out of fashion appeared in the doorway and shook her fist at them. Nate figured she must be the proprietress. Then the madam and half a dozen of her girls came barreling after them.
“Now pick up your skirts and fly, Georgette,” Nate ordered. “Or I’ll carry you over my shoulder like a piglet on its way to market.”
She crossed her arms over her chest. “You wouldn’t dare.”